Seaweed and urchins - a modern Scottish food industry?
From skincare to carbon sequestration, detox to fertiliser, seaweed is more versatile than we realise, finds Catharina Day.
Compared with the Japanese, we don’t have a particularly broad or adventurous sea-borne culinary lexion. Seaweed – a novelty to most of us – appears often in Japanese cooking, not least in miso soup. Carrageen puddings and stews augmented by dulse used to be normal fare along the coasts of Scotland – a botanist in Victorian times noted down 40 words for seaweed in the Western Isles – though it’s in Ireland that the tradition lingers on today.
It is still used as fertilising material by coastal gardeners and crofters, but various industrial uses for seaweed in Scotland over the centuries, such as the Leverhulme processing plant in Harris, failed due to overseas competition, changing markets and over-ambitious schemes. However, cottage industry BloominBute sells fresh seaweed harvested in Bute waters for skincare, bathing and detox, as well five separate types suitable for eating. Those in the know, meanwhile, forage for their own. The authors of a recent wild foraging guide for families, Seaweed and Eat It, are based in Edinburgh and inspired a local baker to bake a loaf flecked with seaweed.
Possible uses as biofuel or in wave-based renewable energy schemes are being investigated, while sugar kelp and dulse are being grown alongside the sustainably farmed salmon at Loch Duart, where they prove useful in carbon sequestration, helping to minimise the impact of pollutants. This company is also growing 20,000 native Paracentrotus lividus, an edible species of sea urchin. They graze on leftover feed and clean algae off the sides of the pens. Rich, creamy sea urchin roes are prized, especially in Japan; with no added antibiotics or growth promoters, these little urchins may yet become a Scottish delicacy.
● Seaweed and Eat It: a family foraging and cooking adventure, by Fiona Houston and Xa Milne.