Sea vegetables at the seafood festival
John Paul Tiernan
Féile Bia na Mara
Our relationship with marine life in Mayo is primarily a nourishing one; one which when maintained correctly, means that a valuable harvest of nutritious and healthy produce can be constantly reaped from the seas around us. It is also of immense economic importance to the county.
Féile Bia na Mara, the annual Achill Seafood Festival, which takes place this year from July 14 to 17, celebrates this and here, in the first of a two part series, we will take a closer look at some of the valuable local seafood which will be highlighted in this year’s festival.
‘Sea vegetable’ sounds a whole lot nicer than seaweed, and during Féile Bia na Mara, Achill native Annette O’Leary will lead sea-vegetable walks through the intertidal area (the area between high and low tide where sea vegetables grow). Participants will be introduced to and have an opportunity to sample some of this incredibly healthy, but mostly unfamiliar natural resource.
One such sea vegetable is the formidable Carrageen, a greenish-yellow to red moss-like plant which is loaded in magnesium and vitamins and has been traditionally used medicinally for treating coughs and viral infections as well as a thickener in foods such as soup due to its gelatinous properties. When picked, Carrageen needs to be bleached or sun-dried to improve its flavour.
Picking is usually done in May and June when growth is good and the days are long to allow for drying.
Further down the shore, the larger, flatter red plants of Dillisk, are similarly picked early in the day to allow drying in the sun.
Dillisk grows attached to the rock or to the stipe of another type of seaweed, oarweed, and is best known for its high iron content and similarly good protein value.
Sleabhcán, meaning ‘wilty’ or flaccid in English, is a thin film-like sea vegetable which is known as Nori or Laver in English and most commonly used in Asian countries as sushi wrapping. Incredibly high in protein, this sea vegetable also contains more vitamin C than an orange and as much vitamin A as spinach, as well as many other vitamins and minerals.
If you want to sample any of these super foods, and learn how to identify the plants for your own future visits to the shore, as well as learning lots of other great info about sea vegetables from Annette O’Leary, get down to Purteen Harbour in Keel on July 16 and 17 for low tide at 12pm.
Annette’s book, ‘Achill’s Hidden Garden’, contains all this information and more, including lots of recipes to cook sea vegetables, and is well worth picking up when it becomes available this summer.
For more information on Féile Bia na Mara, visit www.feilebianamara.ie.
John Paul Tiernan, Louisburgh, runs www.irishmarinelife.com, a website dedicated to the creation of knowledge of our marine ecosystems. He is currently studying for an MSc in Marine Science.