Seaweed has been eaten in coastal areas, the Hebridean Islands, and has been a part of the diet of crofters for centuries. The importance of seaweed in the traditional Scottish diet is depicted in a extract of the poem ‘Highland Woman’ by Somharle MacGill-Eain (Sorley MacLean)
“This spring and last and every twenty springs from the beginning
she has carried the cold seaweed
for her children’s food and the castle’s reward.”
However, the modern Scottish diet has lost the taste for seaweed. Pepper dulse (Osmundea pinnatifida) is a red seaweed like the dulse (Palmaria palmata) also aboard the Ark of Taste. However, there are differences between the two. Palmaria palmate is a medium sized flat seaweed (10cm-40cm) which can be chewy raw and is used mainly dried, while others have found it to be unpalatable raw. Osmundea pinnatifida however is a smaller seaweed (1cm-6cm) and is delicious raw and dried.
As fresh picked seaweed lasts only a few days it is often dried for a longer shelf life. The taste of pepper dulse fresh has a garlicky flavor but dried it has an umami flavor. Pepper dulse is known among chefs as the “Truffle of the Sea”. It grows along the West Coast of Scotland. You can buy it dried and it is expensive compared to other dried seaweeds. This appears to be because it is difficult to harvest in large quantities and the demand is high. Seaweed is often foraged and as with all foraged food rules apply to maintain supplies and not to upset the natural habitat.
The James Hutton Institute and Scottish Association for Marine Science are carrying out research on this much sought after seaweed. This is because not all pepper dulse tastes the same, which can be due to many factors including the seasons, location and weather.
Seaweed has many nutritional qualities that could help address the balance of the Scottish diet that lacks fruit and vegetables. In particular seaweed contains both soluble and insoluble fiber good for gut health. Seaweed is rich in minerals magnesium, calcium, potassium, sodium and iron.