What is Irish Moss? Is it the same as Sea Moss? The short answer is yes, but as always read on for clarification!
‘Sea Moss’ has become a bit of an umbrella term for a number of species of red seaweeds (sea mosses) which produce a jelly-like substance in their cell walls. The two main species associated with nutrition are Chondrus crispus which grows in the Atlantic coast of Europe and North America and Genus Gracilaria which is typically cultivated in Asia, South America, Africa and Oceania. Both species come in varying colours, and this colour can be impacted by how the seaweed is dried. It will be a ‘blonder’ colour if dried in the sunshine and darker if dried indoors.
Pacific Harvest offers Irish Moss (Chondrus crispus) sustainably harvested from the ocean, off the coast of France or Ireland in organically certified areas, and tested for contaminants in accordance with the Australian New Zealand Food Code.
What is Irish Moss Used For?
For centuries, Irish Moss has been used for a wide variety of purposes as diverse as mattress stuffing, cattle feed, printing, and as medicine. According to ancient Irish folklore, Irish Moss was even carried on trips for protection and safety. It was also placed beneath rugs to increase luck and money into the household.
Most famously though, the Irish Moss sea plant was used as a ‘poverty food’ by the Irish during the 19th century, especially during the Irish Potato Famine of 1846-1848. Irish Moss was used widely in the treatment of tuberculosis and pneumonia, and has been used for generations as a home remedy for sore throats and chest congestions.
In Venezuela, Sea Moss is boiled in milk and served with honey before bed. In Ireland and parts of Scotland, Irish Moss was boiled in milk and strained, before sugar and other flavourings such as vanilla, cinnamon, brandy or whiskey were added. The end-product is a kind of jelly desert similar to panna cotta.
How is Irish Moss Harvested today?
In it’s heyday, entire communities were involved in the collection of Irish Moss along the shores of Prince Edward Island (PEI) in Canada. Horse drawn rakes were used to gather the windswept moss. Although most of the harvesting is now done by boat, there are still those who gather moss along the shoreline after storms.
The industry began with a small number of fishermen in the 1930s and quickly grew into a multimillion-dollar industry in just a few decades. This was largely due to the demand for the carrageenan that was extracted from the harvested seaweed.
Sea Mosses are still used as a source of industrial carrageen for various industries and many are now cultivated in farms to be used as a thickener and stabilizer or as a clarifying agent when refining beer and wine.
In recent years, the raw food movement has made extensive use of the whole Irish Moss sea plant to produce a thick gel that gives texture to raw cakes, and for many other food applications.
Irish Moss continues to enjoy a strong revival everywhere, especially in Ireland. It was even noted as the most searched term on Pinterest in 2019!
What Are the Healing Properties of Irish Moss?
Irish Moss has been used for centuries in Ireland and the Atlantic Coast of Europe and North America for its healing properties. Traditionally it was used as a respiratory tonic to relieve congestion, coughs, sore throats, to treat skin conditions, and to generally nourish the skin.
Irish Moss contains many beneficial vitamins and trace minerals such as sulphur, iodine, iron, calcium, selenium, magnesium, potassium and folate. It’s claimed the mineral density in this seaweed can help to strengthen connective tissue and cartilage, and reduces inflammation of the joints. It is also soothing to the digestive tract, lubricating the mucus membranes, and can also be used as a mild laxative.
Read more about its healing properties here: What are the Health Benefits of Irish moss?.
Irish Moss is consumed in a different way to other commonly available seaweeds. Because it becomes jelly-like when soaked in water, it is often used as a vegan substitute for gelatine as it provides a similar consistency without the animal protein.
Although it was traditionally simmered and consumed as a liquid broth, modern-day recipes use raw Irish Moss seaweed to make a raw, blended gel which can be added to foods and drinks as a nutritious thickening agent. (The aroma of ocean that emerges from the packet will neutralise after soaking and rinsing!)
Using Irish Moss in Cosmetics
Many skincare lotions and masks now contain seaweed extracts as seaweeds contains high concentrations of important nutrients, such as vitamins A, B, C, and E. These support the skin’s capacity to retain essential lipids and moisture.
Irish Moss is rich in minerals and has wonderful detoxifying properties – when applied topically, Irish moss soothes and softens the skin. It’s anti-inflammatory properties can ease rashes, psoriasis, eczema and sunburns.
Irish Moss has also become known in the cosmetic industry for its anti-aging effects. This is credited to the relatively high amounts of vitamin K found in Irish Moss, which recent studies link to elasticity of the skin.
Is Irish Moss the Same As Carrageenan?
In the last few decades, the word ‘carrageenan’ has been (misleadingly) used for other products that have many different characteristics, such as commercial food grade carrageenan gum. This gum is extracted from Irish Moss seaweed and other mucilaginous red seaweeds, but is highly processed and should not be confused with Irish Moss gel in it’s pure form.
Carrageenan extract is used as an emulsifier, thickener and stabiliser in foods like yogurt, ice cream, dairy milk, and even organic boxed vegan milks to enhance the textures. It is also a common ingredient in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and toothpastes.
The health concerns with this food additive have been the subject of much debate among health-conscious consumers as it’s been linked to a variety of gastrointestinal disorders including inflammatory bowel syndrome, intestinal ulcerations and tumour growths.
‘Manufactured carrageenan’ or food grade carrageenan is treated with harsh alkali solutions such as potassium hydroxide. During processing of the commercial carrageenan gum, the all-important cellulose is removed from the seaweed, and 5-8% potassium hydroxide is used to process the substance.
Additionally, food-grade carrageenan can be degraded by acids in the stomach, turning it into poligeenan; a potential carcinogenic substance. According to the Cornucopia Institute and their carrageenan report, “degraded carrageenan is such a potent inflammatory agent, that scientists routinely use it to induce inflammation and other disease in laboratory animals, to test anti-inflammation drugs and other pharmaceuticals”.
- Yes, carrageenan gum does come from Irish Mossand other red seaweeds, but it has likely undergone heavy processing and should not be compared to using raw Irish Moss seaweed. When processed into a chemical compound, carrageenan gum is nutritionally diminished and a different product altogether.
- Raw, unprocessed and consumed in its complete form, Irish Mossoffers remarkable health benefits and versatility in the kitchen, and has done so for centuries.
Check out these links to learn more about Irish Moss.
Disclaimer: This material is provided for educational purposes only and is notintended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This information is generic and should be verified by a qualified health practitioner for specific and individual needs and requirements.