Irish moss is harvested for a substance with no color, aroma, or flavor called carrageenan –a substance used in food, cosmetic, and pharmaceutical products as a thickening, or gelling agent. Ice cream, soups, and toothpaste are a few common examples of carrageenan’s uses4.
I’ve read that Irish Moss can be used to make a tasty Irish moss pudding, often called Blancmange,2 but my Irish neighbor once warned me, “ Ohhh…that’s something your mom made you eat when you were young…you know. I wouldn’t call it a tasty treat.” There are many things our moms made us eat when we were young that we like as adults, so perhaps it still warrants a try. Here is a recipe for Irish Moss Pudding for those looking to experiment. http://recipes.lovetoknow.com/wiki/Irish_Moss_Blancmange_Recipe
I haven’t tried it myself, so please leave a comment below if you end up making it.
This perennial algae2 is a reddish purple color that can have a truly beautiful blue iridescence2, though I have seen this color vary greatly. As I am writing this now, I know of a particular granite boulder whose top is only briefly exposed at the lowest tides of the month. It is currently covered with bright yellow Irish moss2, most likely due to the uninterrupted sun we’ve been having all summer. Observation of this species reveals that its color can be bleached into a greenish yellow, or even white after it has been washed up on the beach for a few days.
As red algae (Rhodophyta), it requires less light than green or brown algae, and so is found at greater depths. Irish moss has a circular holdfast1, a short stipe2and a flat blade2,3 that divides into many flat branchlets that often overlap2. When pressed flat, the specimen can look rather fan shaped2.
Size: 15 cm (4-6 in)1,3
Habitat: low intertidal2 and up to 70 m deep (230 ft)1
Range: Some sources state the range is from Labrador to the Long Island Sound2, while others claim a wider range from the Arctic to New Jersey4
1. Watling, L., Fegley, J., Moring, J., White, S., Sulzer, A. (2003) Life Between the Tides. Tilbury House Pub
2. Gosner, Keneth L. (1978), Peterson Field Guides: Atlantic Seashore – A field guide to sponges, jellyfish, sea urchins, and more
3. Alden, P., Cassie, B. (1998). National Audubon Society Field Guide to New England. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, inc..
4. Martinez, A.J. (2011) Marine Life of the North Atlantic: Canada to Cape May. Aqua Quest Publications