When you think of culinary delights that excite the tastebuds, seaweed is very rarely the first ingredient that would spring to mind. However, The Connemara Seaweed Company has made it quite clear that seaweed is a viable and healthy component for a variety of meals.
Set up in 2012 by Noel Lee - a local man who has spent his life harvesting seaweed and fishing with his family that have been in the seaweed business for generations – The Connemara Seaweed Company aims to provide sustainably harvested, local, edible seaweeds and introduce these as an alternative food source that is healthy, nutritional, tasty, and good for the environment. "We hope and believe that seaweed becomes part of everyone’s diet and that we come to recognise it for what it is," said Noel. "A superfood, both environmentally and nutritionally."
There is a wide range of uses for seaweed outside of beauty products that are often little known or forgotten about. "So many different businesses buy seaweed for so many different types of usage," said Noel. "Restaurants for food, beauty industry for cosmetics, and even pet food companies use it as an ingredient."
Seaweed is now considered a natural super food which is full of nutrients that have been proven to help improve the digestive system, the heart, and can also help reduce thyroid problems. As seaweed is so versatile it can be used in many different ways. It can be added to many different dishes to add flavour and has an added bonus is it highly beneficial for your health.
Recently, Galway based Smartbake developed a way to keep bread fresher by adding seaweed to its recipes. There have even been talk of a seaweed infused gin. It is also useful as an ingredient in vegetarian and vegan products such as sausages, burgers and as an thickening agent in vegatarian gravy. Lastly, but no means least, the traditional Irish dessert of Carrageen pudding also features the ingredient, proving that it has been around as part of our history for a long time.
With three full time staff members and six harvesters, The Connemara Seaweed Company is involved in every single aspect of the production; from collecting the seaweed off the shores, to processing and packing it in the factory into eco friendly paper bags and reusable plastic tubs.
Noel notes that the impact of harvesting on the environment also has to be considered, such as "The importance of seaweeds for marine life, and we need to balance this with its use by humans," leading the business "To adopt an ecosystem approach, meaning that we promote conservation and sustainable use in an equitable way".
"Most, if not all, the seaweeds currently for sale have travelled thousands of kilometres to reach your local supermarket and food shop - often all the way from China," Noel noted.
Small scale, local produce is key to a lower carbon footprint, thus reducing the environmental impact. "By providing food from our waters, we hope to contribute to a low carbon economy that takes care of its environment," said Noel.
Whether it has been acknowledged or not as part of Irish culture and cooking, seaweed has been a part of our pantry for years, and customers and businesses are increasingly reaping the health benefits of this versatile ingredient.