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Fucus on Flavour: How Seaweed Stole the Show at the Ballymaloe Food Festival

By Rhianna Rees

Earlier this year I went to Cork for the first time for the much-anticipated 5th Seaweed4Health conference. The conference focuses on the most up-to-date research and developments in the use of seaweed for food and human health. Speakers this year discussed the effects of a seaweed diet on wellbeing, the effect of brown seaweed in a breast cancer patient, and presented macroalgae as a sustainable source of protein and bioactive peptides.

Before attending the conference, with seaweed talks and subsequent interesting conversations, I decided to arrive a few days early to explore the charming city and visit the renowned Ballymaloe Food Festival. Little did I know, this short visit would become a delightful blend of history, culinary discovery, and seaweed marvels.

The Ballymaloe Food Festival, an annual celebration of local suppliers, chefs, and interactive demos, highlighted Ireland’s rich culinary heritage. Throughout the weekend famous chefs such as Antony Worrall Thompson and Rachel Allen graced the main stage (one stage of many!) to showcase how they use local Irish produce. In the main area stallholders offered free samples of honey, beetroot crisps, chocolate, mead, cider, and, of course, whiskey.

But in amongst all the local food, what struck me the most though was the sheer variety of seaweed products that were showcased, and the inventive ways they were incorporated. There was seaweed cheese made with dulse (or dillisk) from Carrigaline Farmhouse Cheese, a tangy delight that paired perfectly with local crackers. I sampled a seaweed ice cream with dulse and candied sugar kelp – an unexpected but delightful combination. The offerings didn’t stop there, seaweed bath salts, oils, and even DIY seaweed bath kits were available from WASI - Seaweed Skincare, promising a rejuvenating spa experience at home.

Another standout product was a seaweed kimchi from Roaring Water Sea Vegetable, a fusion of Korean tradition and Irish seaweed, which had a refreshing crunch and a zingy flavor. However, the highlight of the festival for me was undoubtedly the vegan chorizo and black pudding, also from Roaring Water, both made with ~25% Alaria. This innovative twist on traditional foods was not only delicious but also showcased the versatility of seaweed as a sustainable ingredient.

The history of seaweed use in this region is as versatile as the applications at this event. For centuries, coastal communities have harvested seaweed for various purposes – from agricultural fertilizer to traditional medicine. In Scotland and in Ireland, seaweed has long been a staple, providing both nourishment and health benefits to local communities. The ancient practice of using seaweed in baths for its therapeutic properties is still alive today, and scientific research continues to uncover new health benefits.

The annual Seaweed4Health event is a testament to the growing recognition of seaweed's potential. This conference brings together experts, enthusiasts, and industry leaders to discuss innovations, share research, and explore the future of seaweed in health and nutrition. This year's event promised to be especially exciting, with sessions on sustainable harvesting, the nutritional benefits of different seaweed species, and the latest trends in seaweed-based products. It certainly didn't disappoint, and I'm eagerly awaiting the publication of the various presentations for a deeper dive into the research.

The innovative uses of seaweed I encountered in Cork are a glimpse into the future of this incredible industry. Whether it's in our food, health products, or sustainable practices, seaweed clearly holds immense promise.


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