Magazine article The Spectator

Bring on the Winged Kelp

Magazine article The Spectator

Bring on the Winged Kelp

Article excerpt

Seaweeds, Edible, Available & Sustainable by Ole G. Mouritsen University of Chicago Press, £24.50, pp. 287, ISBN 9780226044361 On 14 April each year, nori fishermen gather on a hillside overlooking Ariake Bay on Kyushu in southern Japan to pay homage to 'the Mother of the Sea'. There is a shrine and an altar for votive offerings but this is not a religious rite. The mother in question is Kathleen Mary Drew-Baker, a Lancashireborn algae researcher who, in 1949, discovered the life-cycle of porphyra umbilicalis Not, perhaps, front-page news in the occident, but this was the key to the cultivation of that dark green papery wrapping around the outside of sushi that is consumed in one form or another in every Japanese household: nori. Kathleen Drew-Baker died in 1956, unaware that her research had laid the foundations for the most valuable aquaculture industry in the world. Today 10 billion sheets of nori are produced every year in Japan alone.

This is just one of many surprising facts in Professor Ole Mouritsen's beautifully illustrated guide for the non-specialist to the immense nutritional, medicinal, industrial and environmental properties of seaweed. A passionate evangelist - and self-confessed obsessive - Mouritsen has travelled the world in his search for the 'seaweed people' who make their lives out of this astonishing stuff.

Seaweed - marine algae, not plants, as Mouritsen is very keen we should remember - can be used to make biofuel without invading the landspace needed for food crops; as an animal foodstuff it reduces the methane output from cattle; it is used in making dental moulds and wound dressings, in stopping ice cream melting too fast and helping pasta keep its shape. …

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