John Paul Tiernan
Wondering how to increase iron in their diet, I was happy to direct someone recently to the most peripheral pharmacy of them all on the big October spring tides a few weeks ago.
Palmaria palmata or Dillisk, is ferrous red and grows at the bottom of the shore, so the lower the tide the better to collect this powerful ‘sea vegetable’ from rock-pools and shallow water. There, its flattish, slightly leathery fronds may be attached to the rock or to the stipe of another type of seaweed, ‘oarweed’ which is a larger brown kelp, known to scientists as Laminaria.
Dillisk needs to be sun-dried and then washed well to remove the tiny crabs and gastropod shells which are sometimes veiled in its fronds. There are thousands of recipes online, but most just chop it finely and throw it into the next meal – it’s particularly good in soup.
It’s nutritional capacity is stunning; besides being one of the best sources of iron, it is also 10-20 per cent protein and contains other minerals such as beta-carotene and magnesium.
Several companies already harvest and market Dillisk with growing success in the West of Ireland. However, if everyone goes to the shore on a spring tide for an iron boost, there very soon won’t be much left. This, coupled with the fact that lucrative international markets who are concerned with eating well (such as the Japanese) can’t get enough of sea vegetables, means efforts are strengthening in Ireland towards growing the seaweed on a commercial scale.
Scientists from Bord Iascaigh Mhara, Queens University Belfast and NUI Galway are starting to see the benefits of a few years of research in growing Dillisk; their long cultivation ropes, which are strung out in certain bays around the country, are starting to host rewarding quantities of the seaweed hanging curtain-like in the water. This is aquaculture at its cleanest and most sustainable – as seaweed draws its nutrients from the water, it doesn’t need costly feed supplements, if anything it leaves the water cleaner.
We’re not the only ones to appreciate Dillisk, in fact it’s probably eaten more in other northern European countries and Canada, but especially Iceland, where it is called söl. If commercial cultivation develops successfully here though, and Dillisk muscles its way into our eating habits and supermarkets, tide-dependant trips to the shore mightn’t be so necessary in the future.
John Paul Tiernan, a marine scientist, runs Irishmarinelife.com, a website dedicated to awareness of our marine life. Hi is also currently teaching in West Mayo.