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Euchema Seaweed

Not too long back, I’d had the impression of Irish moss as a sort of vaguely raw food-ish thing, a ‘waaaay into the hippie realm’ sort of ingredient which seemed just a little too bizarre, inaccessible and troublesome to even bother giving two hoots about.

What’s Irish Moss got to do with real food??  

I’ve now just started sitting up and looking into what Irish moss is about ever since being casually acquainted with some really wicked raw desserts from a local raw food cafe which happened to use it in their raw chocolate/cheesecakes. If intuitive enough, one senses it’s unmistakably ‘sea vegetable-like’ texture – cold, slippery, gelatinous. Yet this is remarkably convenient for reproducing desirable textures in items like smoothies, juices, raw cheesecakes, mousses and parfaits because if done right, a bit o’ this stuff thickens, transforming what would otherwise be a rather watery and fluid mouth feel into a desirable creamy texture.

Doing some reading up, this thickening property also has the added benefit of maintaining that desired creamy effect in raw mousses and cheesecakes while reducing the amount of nuts (and therefore fats) being used. I love this intersection between gastronomic milestones and nutritional benefit because I do believe that food really satisfies and nourishes optimizes both the physiological effects and eating experience.

Irish Moss & Eucheuma Seaweed – Health Benefits of Sea Veggies

Okay, I’ve talked about the exciting possibilities for Irish moss paste in raw food application but what exactly is Irish moss good for you ask. Taking a rather overall and layman approach to this, sea vegetables/seaweed (the category Irish moss belongs to) are known generally to be able to purge toxins such as heavy metals from the system. This is related to the Chinese Yin-Yang concept as seaweeds are yang in nature, to be of downward movement, therefore being good at ridding the body of otherwise difficult to release… nasties.

More specifically, Irish moss soothes the body’s mucous membranes, is beneficial for the respiratory system, is rich in various minerals like Iodine (another common property of the sea vegetable category!), and also contains anti-oxidants. Its benefits are not limited to ingestion but cosmetic application too it seems, reducing dark circles, soothing skin inflammation (much like aloe vera) and also helps achieve a silky texture in your homemade shampoo! It is fascinating how one humble plant provides us with so many useful applications beyond its already impressive nutrient profile.

So here’s a bit of a weird thing. I’ve talked oodles about Irish moss, but what I’m featuring here today is NOT actually Irish Moss. Known as Sea Bird’s Nest/Coral Jelly/San Hu Cao among the health-conscious (Asian) crowd or more scientifically-speaking Eucheuma Seaweed, this also provides many similar nutritional benefits as well as appears pretty much identical in texture, taste and practical application to what’s been described of Irish Moss.

More perks related to the Sea Bird’s Nest in particular are its high composition of collagen, calcium and iron, making it something of a highlight among health and beauty conscious women in particular. I can hardly believe its nutrient density when I take a look at its nutrient profile: over 600mg of calcium, iron and magnesium per 100g of product!

The health benefits are dizzying I feel I need not devote anymore space to this. You can read more from the links I’ll post at the end and I’ll leave it to your discretion to either follow me in enthusiasm or skepticism.

What’s of most interest to me is adapting use of this more locally and readily available seaweed into applications where Irish Moss is concerned. Browsing the net for recipes, Sea Bird’s Nest is cooked and dissolved to make jellies, boiled in soups or eaten as a crunchy condiment in salads. More conveniently, it is also blended raw into juices just like Irish Moss so making it seem like a suitable candidate in replacement for the actual Irish Moss.

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How to Prepare Eucheuma Seaweed – Making into a Paste like Irish Moss Paste

The preparation of either sea vegetable is highly similar in any case. Both come in the dried form, caked with sand and smelling really quite funky. One whiff of the seaweed almost knocked me out with its strong, pungent, sea-water smell. The courageous who proceed to solidier on, thoroughly washing off the sand by rinsing a few times and soaking for the lengthy 5-6 hours will notice that the smell eventually tones down into a more familiar agar powder smell, less strong but still smelling of the sea. Throughout the soaking period, the water can be changed a few times to further remove the fishy smell, but otherwise, the seaweed is left soaking to rehydrate and reach its full gelatinous glory.

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While Irish Moss seems to require 6-12 hours, Eucheuma averages about 5-6 hours according to recipes. To be on the safe side, I left it soaking overnight in the fridge. Then followed as per Irish Moss paste recipes that call for cutting up the ‘jelly’ and blending with some reserved soaking water into a super smooth gel resembling aloe vera gel.

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I had no problems whatsoever obtaining the desired consistency using the instructions from Irish moss paste recipes. In fact, the paste I made from Eucheuma seems identical to the Irish Moss paste and I am pretty confident at the point that it can be used interchangeably.

Eucheuma Seaweed Paste in my Juice – First Impressions

Slightly haggard from all that blending, I gave it try in my morning juice, watermelon this time and with my usual chia seeds, excited to observe the kind of consistency it would produce.

2 Tbsp in one large serving indeed produced a slightly goopier consistency compared to just the mucilage chia seeds usually produce. And I liked how this actually allowed me to EAT my juice at a comfortably slower rate in contrast to easily slurping it all down as per my camel tendencies. I noticed that I surprisingly felt fuller than normal – even the high fibre of my chia-spiked juice makes me ready for meal, but the addition of the paste this time really gave me the feeling of fullness even though I’d just had so few calories from the juice!

Watermelon Juice with Eucheuma Seaweed Paste and Chia — with added lemon juice to mask the agar-y smell. Citrus seems to do well in covering up the seaweed odor.

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Now the task is to see if this paste I’ve created stacks up to the practical applications of the original Irish Moss paste in raw food recipes. After today’s results, I am hopeful that this health promoting ingredient can indeed be incorporated into various everyday foods like morning smoothies, parfaits, healthy dessert creams without much difficulty. We’ll just have to see what comes out of all that experimenting over the next 2 weeks, which is how long this paste is supposed to last.

Watch this space for updates! Good ones too I hope!

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Useful links:

Irish Moss
http://www.rawbayarea.com/what-is-irish-moss/
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=77StbYgekCI

Eucheuma Seaweed/San Hu Cao
http://seabirdnest.wordpress.com/
http://sennyong.blogspot.sg/2009/08/san-hu-cao-eucheuma-seaweed.html

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