Saturday, May 26, 2012

Foraging: Irish Moss, Chondrus crispus

If I had been around when Rubens was painting, I would have been revered as a fabulous model. Kate Moss? Well, she would have been the paintbrush. – Dawn French

Wondrous Chondrus crispus.
We found ourselves at the beach the other day with Henry, our Bouvier. He is a little “wave-obsessed,” to put it mildly. He likes to go body surfing.

Photo: lastonein, Flickr ccl
While he was pulling us down the beach I came across some seaweed that had been washed up during the last high tide. It looked like Irish Moss.

I had spoken about Irish Moss last year, but I have to admit it was all theory and no practice. I can now confidently say that I have turned that statement on its head.

This is going to be a 2-part post. Today I’m going to show you what Irish Moss is (and how to dry it, quickly). Tomorrow or the next day I’ll give a recipe for an orange pudding. It’s actually cooling on the counter now.

So what does pudding have to do with Irish Moss, you may ask. Irish moss is the source for carrageen, a thickening agent used worldwide in all kinds of commercial foods and products (milkshakes, puddings, toothpaste...).

The proper name for this seaweed is Chondrus crispus – which sounds almost as lyrical as “Irish Moss.” Interestingly, Irish moss is actually called something else in Ireland. The name there is  Carrageen moss. The Irish word carraigín means “moss of the rocks.”

This reddish-brown seaweed grows very near the physical coastline on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. It has been used as a harvestable foodstuff for centuries and also as a cash crop. Nova Scotians harvest Irish Moss commercially even today. Us landlubbers can find it as I did, washed up on the beach. You don't need much at all to make a pudding.

There’s a bit of buzz around Irish Moss and health properties, and for good reason.

Fresh caught, and full of sand. Remember this colour...
Irish moss is believed to contain 15 of the 18 essential elements that make up the human body. They includes calcium, iodine, sulphur, and potassium as well as Vitamins A, D, E, F and K. Recent studies have found that Irish moss has great anti-viral properties and can help fight the Influenza B and mumps viruses.

The carrageen from Irish Moss is now a standard ingredient in cosmetics that purport to reverse the “common signs of aging.” It is possible carrageen aids the skin because of its high Vitamin K levels. Vitamin K and skin elasticity have a proven scientific link.

But… back to the beach. I was almost (99.9%) certain what I was looking at was Irish Moss. It is a bit difficult to misidentify, but it’s always that 0.1% that we have to look out for.

I thought to myself: “If it thickens milk, it’s got to be Irish Moss.” So I gathered about 1/3 of a plastic grocery store bag I had with me “for Henry.” Nothing like a good old-fashioned experiment I thought.

I went looking for recipes on how to use it, but unfortunately all of the ones I found called for dried moss that was reconstituted in warm water. So I went looking for how to dry it. When in Rome...

There were two methods. The first (preferable) takes 2 weeks in the sun. The second was oven drying in about 4 hours. I opted for the 4-hour wait.

There is a difference between the two drying methods. When dried in the oven the Irish Moss retains nearly all of its red-brown colour and turns very, very dark. When dried in the sun it bleaches to nearly white. To me that sounds like a much better colour for a pudding additive.

Next time I’ll be sun-drying, so I have that white colour. It really didn’t really have much impact on my orange pudding, but if you wanted vanilla dessert err on the side of caution and sun-dry.

Oven dried and black. When reconstituted it actually turns out
lighter than the colour in the photo just above. Go figure.
I do want to sun dry a bunch some time this summer.
To dry Irish Moss in the oven:
Wash the moss exceptionally well in your sink under cool water. This may take a bit of work. Take care to remove any foreign matter and/or shells, debris, sea grass, etc.

Once it is cleaned sufficiently, place it on wire racks in an oven heated to 180°F. Bake until dried, between 3-4 hours.

Remove and bag. Dried – either in oven or sunshine – Irish Moss will last indefinitely.

A note on wire racks:
Many recipes that requiring drying things in the oven call for “placing (whatever) on wire racks.” If you have wire racks, good for you. Use them.

If you don’t, go to the hardware store and buy a roll of metal door screen. Cut pieces long enough to wrap around the racks already in your oven. This gives you the entire surface of your oven racks to dry things, like Irish Moss.

Part two – the recipe – will be along either tomorrow or the day after. This stuff works great as a thickener. You’ll also find out how I got rid of that nagging 0.1% in me that thought maybe I wasn’t gathering irish Moss…


If you like this post retweet it using the link at top right, or share it using any of the links below. Questions? Comments? Derogatory remarks?

No comments:

Post a Comment