SEAWEED AND THEIR NUMEROUS HEALTH BENEFITS.
26 MAY 2010
FROM THE ARTICLE « SHE SELLS SEAWEED » BY JOANNE WILL PUBLISHED IN THE NOVEMBER 2009 EDITION OF TIDINGS, FOOD & WINE MAGAZINE.
“You can eat it, and rub it on your body,” says Diane Bernard, sitting on a rock at Whiffin Spit Beach. She’s talking about Alaria, a seaweed, and how she became known as the seaweed lady. There’s a mini continental shelf here in the sheltered area near Vancouver Island’s venerable Sooke Harbour House. Diane calls it her classroom.
The idea for Outer Coast Seaweeds came to her at the turn of the century. “It was time for a change. I wanted to take a wild resource and value-add. In Canada, we’re quick to sell off our resources at the cheapest prices. I also thought ‘How could we help women in coastal communities stay there?’” Her heritage is Acadian, and she hails from generations of seaweed gatherers. “My aunts made broth from it. My uncles used it to keep their lobster traps cool, and insulated their homes with it,” says Diane.
In addition to supplying restaurants the slippery weed for culinary use, she’s created a tea from seaweed and local mint, and Sea Flora, a line of skincare. In 2001 she began working with chefs, showing them her garden. “They were heads down and gone, it was very exciting and dramatic!” she says. Like a land garden, seaweed grows, fruits, and reproduces — but it has spores instead of seeds, and instead of rooting in soil, it attaches to rocks.
Diane’s garden has over 250 species, and the Canadian west coast has around 700. “We have variety and sheer tonnage,” she says, but notes that 99 per cent of seaweed products in Canada are from Europe. “In North America the single largest use of seaweed is as an ingredient to ensure chocolate milk doesn’t separate. That’s too bad, it’s a valuable food source, and could feed a lot of people. It has higher levels of vitamin A, E, and C than anything, also contains D, K, beta carotene, antioxidants, over 60 trace mineral elements, essential amino acids, and all the B’s, including B12 for vegetarians,” she says.
She’s got favourites — like rockweed, which she calls a funky-looking seaweed. “It’s great under the broiler, nice in stir fry, or just heated up, and it’s great raw. You can also put it on your skin,” she says, and we do just that. Alaria, which looks like a feather boa and has bulbs that can be eaten as olives (and used in martinis), is another favourite. “Prophyra (Nori) is the single most economically important seaweed in the world. It’s used for sushi. You can read a newspaper through it, it has a nice chew — it’s meaty, nutty, and is a complete protein,” says Diane. “In Japan, it’s a $12 billion dollar industry.”
Most edible seaweed is within reach of the shore, and doesn’t require a boat to access, says Diane. The tidal zone is where she harvests, and the compost zone, as she calls it, is where the fishy-smelling seaweed dwells — it’s rotting and breaking down. “You don’t want to harvest there, but it’s great fertilizer for the garden. Farmers are gathering it by the pitchfork-full in October,” she says.
Her seaweed was served to the Emperor of Japan when he visited Victoria, and will be served there again during the 2010 Olympics. As our conversation ends, a deer and fawn wander out to the spot where we’d been exploring earlier and nibble on their fill of sodium and nutrients. Seaweed: the choice of Emperors, Olympians, and animals.
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