What is Dulse Seaweed?
Finger on the ‘dulse’
With Dulse season drawing to a close, our Seaweed Manager and resident algae expert, Rory MacPhee, shares an evocative blog on harvesting and cooking with this beautiful red seaweed.
Seaweed harvesting is governed by the moon and the seasons. The autumn months are spent reflecting on the summer and slow, relentless snipping of the dulse fronds. Whilst one man can cut half a tonne of kombu, the target for dulse in the same time is just 70kg.
The harvester looks carefully in the fronds of serrated wrack, prospecting for this precious food. We open the season in mid-August, and close it down in late October. The end of the dulse season comes with an audible sigh, as the harvester repairs to mend his or her kit, and try out new recipe ideas.
As the days shorten and the sun tracks lower over the waves, dulse develops a striking purple colour. No longer the pink, brown, green of high summer, this beautiful yet capricious algae is preparing to breed in late winter.
The lifecycle of dulse
A confusion of phycologists (seaweed experts!) have variously named dulse as fucus palmatus, rhodymenia palmata and palmaria palmata. The latter is now in common use, and describes the hand or palm-like characteristics of this algae.
Like fellow red seaweed nori, the life-cycle of dulse is perplexing, and was only discovered in 1980. The female plant (size 1mm) becomes sexually mature after a few days of existence, whilst the elder male mate (size 100 mm) develops his libido over 8 to 12 months, during which sperm are released. This avoids generational breeding and maintains genetic variability.
Mara is working on a long-term project to propagate dulse plants on rope lines at sea, or tanks onshore. This is a complex task, yet the goal is clear. By discovering methods of propagation, the plants can be grown out away from the shore line with controlled nutrient profiles and easy accessibility. It’s part of our commitment to sustainability.
Dulse has been a popular snack in Scotland and Ireland for generations, and at sea, we eat the leaves raw to keep up our energy levels. (Seaweed is low in calories, but a good source of minerals to keep electrolytes in the blood balanced.) Dulse doesn’t need cooking, which helpfully preserves the high nutrient profiles of protein, potassium and iodine, among other micro-nutrients.
If the harvest team are feeling lazy, we’ll light a fire on the beach and toast the fresh dulse on a hot rock. It turns green with the heat, and develops a deeper and more embracing taste profile. Back home, dulse flakes go into the five-egg cheese omelette we try not to share after a long day on the rocks. It’s also delicious on a bacon roll, in place of ketchup, as well as with red meat, salmon and chocolate.
Celebrate the close of autumn with us, and pick up some Dulse; the fruits of our labour. Try it in your meals and let us know how you get on in the comments.