A Short History of Dulse Seaweed
Generations of deliciousness
This week, it’s Scottish Food and Drink Fortnight. With 2017 named Scotland’s Year of History, Heritage and Archaeology, it seemed a perfect time to profile the history of edible seaweed. Dulse, which is also currently in season, has been eaten for centuries in Gaelic communities, and continues to be relevant to modern diets.
As valuable as a cow
People have been eating seaweed for a long time. There’s evidence that even Mesolithic man chewed 'weed, but most notably its written history begins in the seventh century. Irish monk St Columba, freshly relocated to the island of Iona, refers to ‘dulsing’ in a poem. Recognising its nutritional value, Ionan monks would collect seaweed to feed the poor, softening it with butter or mixing it with oatmeal.
Ever since Columba’s time, dulse held value for medieval people. In Ireland, it was recorded that a crop of dulse on a rock was as valuable as a cow. (And with recent research suggesting that cows who eat seaweed produce less methane, it could be argued that the two are still equally weighted…)
Celebrated in folklore
Fast forward to 1703 and Scottish writer Martin Martin, most well known for his Description of the Western Islands, describes dulse as “very good for the sight.” Martin also suggests not much had changed in a millennium, telling us how “the Natives eat it boil’d with butter, and reckon it very wholesome.”
Another 200 years later and dulse was just as popular. Dickens wrote of 'dulse-wives' selling seaweed on the streets of Edinburgh and Aberdeen in Victorian times, where it was then enjoyed as a relish or roasted over a fire (and probably with butter too).
For richer or poorer
Meanwhile, over in Ireland, for the traditional currach (Irish boat) voyager, dulse cooked on the embers of a beach fire provided welcome nourishment – the ashes adding valuable vitamin A to the protein-rich seaweed.
However, in the mid-19th century, seaweed lost its coveted status, and became unfairly associated with famine. For the Irish, potatoes and seaweed had always been a part of the national diet. But when the potato crop failed, desperate families headed to the coast to forage, and seaweed was seen as a poor man’s food.
A seaweed renaissance
These days, dulse is enjoying a revival. In 2014, Slow Food UK added dulse to its ‘Ark of Taste,’ protecting it as a forgotten food, and in the street markets of Belfast you can still buy dulse fronds in paper bags to nibble on. Meanwhile, some companies are using new research to declare dulse a ‘vegan bacon,’ because of its naturally salty, smoky taste.
Here at Mara, we’re just as committed to getting this “ancient food for modern thinkers” back into the everyday diet. Our sprinkles make it easy to add delicious, iron-rich Dulse to your meals. And whatever era you choose to dine in, our recipes have you covered: you can enjoy Mara Seaweed with your oats, beef or potatoes. Just don't forget the butter.