Jersey’s shoreline offers a realm of culinary options, if you know where to look.

Standing on the beach, at Petit Port, his back to the Atlantic, Andrew Syvret surveys his favourite place to get lunch. While Jersey has many wonderful cafes where you can easily pick up a crab sandwich or some local ice cream, this marine biologist has more natural tastes. “Jersey has over 200 varieties of seaweed” he exclaims, holding up a strand of dripping red leaves, “and they are all edible.”

Just as certain crops grow better in different parts of the island, each species of seaweed has its preferred bay. “The waves on the east coast of Jersey are less savage than those in the west” Andrew says, “which suits certain seaweeds like knotted vrack.”

Seaweed grows more as the days lengthen, making spring an ideal time to collect new growth, the best part to eat. There are three colours of seaweed, green which grows near the top of the beach, brown which favours the middle and red which inhabits the lower shore. The tastiest seaweeds to eat are generally red or green, while the browns, which are too tough, are used for cosmetics or fertilizer.

In the 19th century seaweed was an important crop for Jersey with whole families gathering cartloads. After a hiatus in the late 20th century, farmers are once again interested in seaweed, sending out giant tractors and lorries to collect washed up dead seaweed for their potato fields. As well as serving as a fertilizer, seaweed also acts as a pesticide, preventing eel-worm, which normally afflicts land where potatoes have been repeatedly cultivated.

Types of Seaweed

From a culinary perspective, different seaweeds work for different dishes. Kombu is a good bulking agent which adds a deep flavour to casseroles; Pepper Dulce is spicy and can be used in piquant sauces to accompany oily fish like mackerel; Sea Lettuce can be deep fried and used as a relish and Kodium works in a salad with new potatoes and poached eggs.

Collecting seaweed is labour intensive as each strand has to be cut by hand, before being washed, folded, dried and packed, losing 85% of its weight in the process. “Some of the species are best eaten fresh.” Andrew said, eyeing up a fat piece of Kelp. “This would be nice in a sandwich, like salad, and you would only store it in the fridge for a few days. Other varieties, like Sea Lettuce can be dried, and if kept in dark conditions it would be fine for five years.”

Just as Jersey’s restaurants now serve sushi, its beaches are also feeling the influence of species from the east. Non-native species like Japanese Weed or Wakame will have been transported in the ballast water of ships and now proliferate.

During the Occupation, islanders used seaweed as a vital source of food with species like Carragreen serving as a setting agent, as protein and for making cakes, a time many islanders would rather forget. Andrew said: “The older people in Jersey who had to eat seaweed during the war would not dream of touching it now, it has too many bad connotations.”

This is the opposite for younger generations, and seaweed is even starting to appear on menus in some of the islands finest restaurants, such as The Atlantic, adding a novel twist to items like Jersey butter or Jersey Royals.

For Andrew it is now all about sustainability; eating and helping other people find a way to eat which has less impact on the natural environment. “I used to be a predator,” he said, “going out looking for scallops and fish, but now I’m more interested in taking things which we have lots of. The seashore is like a garden, it is so pretty and offers so much, but we have to look after it.”

 

Further Information:

Andrew Syvret runs guided walks around Jersey’s coastline from £5 per person. See www.seajersey.com for details.

Julia Hunt is editor of The Good Taste Guide: Jersey, the Channel Island’s first independent restaurant guide. Available from Waterstones St Helier and from www.goodtasteguides.com