Thursday, 7 March 2013

A Fan of Fucus

When I was an adolescent I was sent to South Shields on a biology field trip

During the week long stay we had each to devise a project, carry out research and submit our findings in the form of a write-up.

For some reason I chose seaweed.
Fascinating stuff when you look at it closely
Did I ever admit that I don't get out much?)

I even had my favourite fucus, chondus crispus (aka Irish moss, or carrageen moss) the delightful little pink coral-like variety that grows from the middle intertidal zone down to the gloomy depths of the sea...

Here's the scientific stuff from Wikepedia
"Chondrus crispus is a source of carrageenan, which is commonly used as a thickener and stabilizer in milk products such as ice-creeam and processed foods including luncheon meat, in Europe it is indicated as E407 or E407b. It may also be used as a thickener in calico-printing and for fining beer or wine. Irish moss is frequently mixed with Mastocarpus stellatus (Gigartina mammillosa), Chondracanthus acicularis (G. acicularis) and other seaweeds with which it is associated in growth. Carrageenan and agar-agar are also used in Asia for gelatin-like deserts such as almond jelly."

I didn't know, as I sat on that freezing cold North Sea coastline in November, valiantly eating a Mr Whippy in that stoical "we're at the seaside, we're darned well going to eat ice-cream and sunbathe even if it we get frost-bite and hypothermia" manner that the British adopt whenever they are at the coast, that chondus crispus is used in its manufacture.

Had I known I would have been even more enamoured of this little beauty...

More interesting facts about chondus crispus?

Well, in Breton it has goes by many names:
pioka, liken ruz, teil piko, bouch, bouchounoù, bejin behan, bejin gwenn, bouch farad youd, bouch gad, bouch gwenn, jargod, ougnachou-ru, teles, tilez

To the French it is:
petit goémon, mousse d’Irlande, lichen (carraghèen), goémon frisé, goémon blanc, goémon rouge, mousse perlée

"Chondrus crispus is, compared to most other seaweeds, well-investigated scientifically. (I obviously wasn't the first to be captivated by crispus) It has been used as a model species to study photosynthesis, carageenan biosynthesis, and stress responses." (Wikepedia again)

Natural History Mag has an article explaining how chondus crispus just keeps hanging on with pictures that prove that we should all be proud to stand tall but that, at times, it is necessary to bend and yield to forces more powerful than ourselves. A very zen seaweed indeed.

There are 1600 species of red algae, most of which are marine

Fucus vesiculosis was another that I liked, partly because it's so darned easy to identify and partly because popping the little bladders as I sat on a rock and gazed out to sea was a calming activity that, in later years, was replaced by popping the pockets of air in that protective plastic paper used to wrap delicate items for safe posting.

(Nature is always first with a useful invention, n'est-ce pas)

Back to Wikedpedia
"Fucus vesiculosus, known by the common name Bladder wrack, is a seaweed found on the coasts of the North Sea, the western Baltic Sea, and the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, also known by the common names black tang, rockweed, bladder Fucus, sea oak, black tany, cut weed and rock wrack. It was the original source of iodine, discovered in 181,1 and was used extensively to treat goitre, a swelling of the thyroid gland related to iodine deficiency. In the 1860s, it was claimed that bladder wrack, as a thyroid stimulant, could counter obesity by increasing the metabolic rate and, since then, it has been featured in numerous weight-loss remedies."

I am not a fan of weight-loss remedies but French ladies love them.
In the fresh fruit and vegetable section of Carrefour there is a rack of herbs that are said to aid minceur, the toiletry section displays bottles of pills that claim to help you lose the flab and find your thighs, whole magazines, emblazoned with such headlines as "Lose Your Dimples Before Slipping Into Your Bathing Costume" are devoted to the crusade against cellulite...

No, that's not my tasse de té but, living as I do when in France surrounded on three sides by brine and within an easy drive of some of the most spectacular coasts in Europe, I cannot fail to be tempted by the taste of the sea.

I regularly crack crab claws
munch on mussels
fry a fish
lick my lips over lobster...

I firmly believe that the body should be fed that which it craves and since moving to Brittany I have craved the bounty of the sea, whether it be animal, vegetable or mineral

and so while The Ragazza and I were browsing an organic foodstore in the seaside town of Binic I bought these packets of seaweed flakes to sprinkle on salads...

Now I can have a taste of the sea even when I'm land-locked in Oxfordshire

Have I converted anyone to the delights of seaweed?


  1. I love the look of the many kinds of seaweed. All sound delicious. I think the only seaweed I've eaten is 'nori' when used in sushi which is very popular here, introduced by our large Japanese population.

    1. Hello Marja-Leena, yes, it's lovely isn't it? And so interesting. I'm craving seafood right now, and seaweed...

  2. Me too, I like seaweed, except the dreaded algues vertes plague of course. I went for a beach walk with my friend and her small boy a while back and showed him how to pop bladder wrack, and I was amazed she knew nothing about it.

    Tell me, do you have Charles Davies' book 'Bumping about Brittany'? I reviewed it ages ago-

    and I'm sure you'd enjoy it. He lately contacted and said he had a number of copies he was jobbing off, so if you're interested I'd happily have him send you a copy (as a gift, what goes around...). I left you my e-mail address before, let me know.

    Enjoyed the last 'words' post too!

    1. The toxic green seaweed is a real health problem, isn't it? I read about a horse that died on a beach in Brittany, terrible! Too much nitrate in the soil...
      I made sure that I taught my Rags all about such things as popping seaweed and where to find frogs and such necessary tricky :-)
      I've not heard about that book, I shall pop to your blog to read the review, a copy would be lovely, how kind of you. Thank You.

  3. You'll need to e-mail me with your postal address - I am very trustworthy and will not send any junk mail!

  4. Hello Lucy, I feel foolish but I cannot find your e-mail address anywhere. Was it in a comment or did you e-mail me?
    Please send it to again, thank you :-)

  5. Greetings Julia from Fragments from Floyd (Virginia). Landlocked, I marvel at seaweeds when I too-infrequently encounter a seashore. Their forms intrigue me, but much like a beached jellyfish, the washed-up specimens are nothing there compared to their in situ forms held up and swirled by the currents.

    Might toss in that "chondro" of the genus suggest "cartilaginous"--as in chondrocytes etc.

    And this made me remember back decades ago when I was teaching biology and we briefly surveyed the kingdoms, one practical use of the (brown?) algae was "thicker, longer lasting beer foam." I try to find occasion to ponder that over a mug every day or so.

    Thanks for stopping by the blog to comment from that other persona-at-work. I never would have expected the blog of a threat-security warrior to be so richly varied and thoughtful. But then, we tend to live out our roles in compartments that too seldom overlap very much.

    1. Good Morning Fred from Floyd! I smiled when I read about the beer, another wonderful use for seaweed indeed!

      Being a threat-security warrior is how I earn a living and pay for my houses, both here and in Brittany. I've spent twenty-five years immersed in computer code, I often wonder why I didn't pursue another path but a long career in I.T. has served me well.

      But we all have hidden depths, don't you find, and I love it when a stranger asks this little, nondescript, almost-invisible, middle-aged woman "What do you do?" and their reaction when I tell them. It's reminds me, again, never judge a book by its cover, or a person by their appearance.



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