Sunday, August 30, 2015

Maine Seaweed Festival 2015

I lived in Maine for 16 years but never learned to identify or eat any of the fresh seaweed or sea vegetables from the coast. Back when I was a teenager living in Maine I had only the knowledge to use the knotted wrack (a dominant rockweed species found in Maine) to add them in our clam/lobster bake during the cooking/steaming process. In my family we regularly eat seaweed purchased from the Asian markets for as long as I could remember. As a child living in Vietnam there were 2 popular dishes I enjoyed that used sea vegetables; one was in soups and the other in a cold drink mixed with other hydrated dried and fresh fruits and crushed ice known as "che sam bo luong". More recently I purchased a huge bag of dried dulse from New Brunswick (Canada). I brought it home and used it in soups, appetizers, in stir fries, on pizza, part of a filling for dumplings/ravioli, and many other savory dishes until I ran out.

I was excited to learn that a group of people started a Maine Seaweed Festival. Their mission is 'to raise awareness and educate the public about the impacts Maine macroalgae is having in our local food culture, agriculture & aquaculture industries, as well as academic arts and sciences'. I was unable to attend last year's first event but was fortunate to have the opportunity to attend their 2nd festival this weekend. There were many scientific and educational talks, cooking demos, a seaweed pressing (art) workshop, how to identify the top 10 seaweed in Maine, a parade, live music and many other exciting activities for the day.

Not so surprising, the chef cooking demos seemed to draw a crowd and got some people even excited about eating something new. Frankly, I find that you can pretty much incorporate the sea vegetables, either fresh, dried, pureed or chopped in many of the dishes and drinks. You can also use a little to add as a garnish similar to how you use an herb. Be a little inventive and creative and you may be amazed at what you can do with a dish. Ironically seaweed is not a new food ingredient. Over the years somehow in this part of the country people forgot how to eat it. Perhaps it's due to an abundance of other available foods. Speaking to older people in Maine some actually remember eating it as a child. In some parts of coastal Eastern Canada people continue to eat dried dulse as snacks.

The presentation on how to cultivate sugar kelp from spores by Dr. Charles Yarish and Simona Augyte, both from the Seaweed Marine Biotechnology Lab at the University of Connecticut, was fascinating. The techniques for farming were quite simple and quick to harvest. In 6-7 months you can actually harvest the mature plants. For more detailed step-by step cultivation information, you can access their New England Seaweed Culture Handbook online at

To wrap up the day a handful of people and I followed Simona Augyte combing the shore to identify different sea vegetation. This session was very informative since I have an interest in harvesting wild food. We were given a set of index cards on a ring with color photos of each of the top 10 seaweed with easy to read key description. The seaweed is broken down to brown, red and green. Simona's lovely daughter was a big help. She happily waded into the cold water to find different types of seaweed for us to identify. It's nice to see a young child that already has an interest in science. My goal for this festival was met as I felt comfortable identifying all of the listed seaweed. Below are photos of the varieties of seaweed that we found on the shore of Maine. My favorite is the hair-like garcilaria. I like the crunchy texture of this fresh red algae. Here is a link on the top 10: Useful species of seaweed grown or harvested in Maine.

To sum up the day's event. I learned that cultivating sea vegetables has many benefits. It's not only tasty and nutritious for human consumption but it's also sustainable, environmentally friendly, provides habitat and can be used to mitigate pollution and coastal erosion. According to Dr. Qingping Zou, a professor from University of Maine, farming in large scale may potentially protect the coast from damage caused by storms.

Below are a few photos I took from the 2015 Maine Seaweed Festival located at Southern Maine Community College in South Portland. Thank you for putting this wonderful event together! For those of you who have never eaten sea vegetables, remember you can add it to any savory or sweet foods and drinks. It's delicious and rich in minerals and vitamins, so give it a try!

Maine Seaweed Festival 2015
a few vendors
seaweed press art
a few food trucks at the event
Maine-ly Meatballs--guess what they have in their balls!
This is a good thing to support!
tents along the waterfront
a poster about Sustainable Ecological Aquaculture Network (SEANET) program
UConn professor, Dr. Charles Yarish discussed "How Do You Grow Kelp?"
UConn graduate student Simona Augyte
-techniques on how to grow sugar kelp from spores

chef cooking demo using sea vegetable
hydrated sea vegetable wrapped salmon
view of Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse
Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse
Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse

view from Spring Point Ledge Lighthouse
view of Southern Maine Community College and Seaweed Festival

harvesting sea vegetables
Eating horsetail kelp straight from the ocean!
Tasty sea lettuce!
This girl got all of us eating as well!
red algae: laver
green algae: sea lettuce
green algae: sea lettuce
brown algae: horsetail kelp
red algae: dulse
red algae: irish moss
brown algae: bladder wrack
red algae: gracilaria
a few variety of sea vegetation found in coastal Maine
bladder wrack
here are the brown, red and green algae
brown algae: knotted wrack (and periwinkles)
beautiful music from Seagrass

1 comment:

  1. Interesting Festival, the first time I heard. I would like to see and eat arctic seaweed. I read about them. It would like to try them :)