Born beside the Atlantic Ocean on the west coast of Ireland, Dr. Prannie Rhatigan became entranced by the secrets of the shoreline, even more so when her father, also a doctor, shared his knowledge of the life-giving plants growing there.
That’s how the public health practitioner became deeply interested in phycology – the study of seaweed – and its health enhancing properties.
To add intrigue to an Irish holiday, visitors can now enjoy special walking tours and cooking demonstrations with Sligo-based Prannie and learn more about how to harvest these plants, their nutritional value and how to integrate them into meaningful diets.
Often described as a ‘nutrient-rich superfood,’ edible seaweed, of which there are many kinds, has been the focus of much scientific research worldwide with their many medical benefits becoming better known.
High in iodine, iron, antioxidants, soluble and insoluble fibre, vitamin C, K and B-12, protein and other nutrients, seaweed also contains certain compounds not found in terrestrial food sources, including fucoidan that has anticoagulant and antiviral properties.
Numerous studies link the Japanese diet – high in fish, seaweed, soya, fruits and vegetables – to lower rates of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, obesity and cancer.
An Irish seaweed pioneer and guru, Prannie has been a key event speaker, including the upcoming international ‘Seaweed for Health’ conference; hosted culinary demonstrations and produced two comprehensive seaweed cookery books, under the title, ‘Irish Seaweed Kitchen,’ comprising snacks, main dishes and desserts; even an exotic cocktail or two including gin soaked duileasc and champagne with brandied bladderwrack bubbles. And a seaweed face cream using carraigin for good measure.
Ever heard of truffle seaweed? Sea spaghetti risotto? Sea chi – fermented carrots with spaghetti? Or even baked non-flour chocolate cake using nori, widely used as sushi wrapping? They’re among many diverse recipes you’ll learn from Prannie whose passion for the undiscovered benefits of what she calls ‘sea vegetables’ is illuminating.
Prannie’s second book, ‘Irish Seaweed, Christmas Kitchen’ was awarded first place in the Gourmand Best in the World Awards, seafood category, in Macao, China. It contains luscious photographs by Jill Oestreich in Switzerland. “Seaweed is a rich, underrated food and my passion is to help educate people about its high nutritional quality and delicious taste,” Prannie said.
Prannie is well-qualified to advise on health matters. A general practitioner by training, she has worked on Ireland’s National Cardiovascular Strategy programme and represented the Irish College of general practitioners on the National Steering Group for the implementation of ‘Smoke Free at Work’ in Ireland. She delivered the President’s address to the PSA (Phycological Society of America) Seattle, facilitated a workshop on seaweed cooking with researchers in the US and is now heavily involved in dealing with the coronavirus outbreak.
A committed environmentalist, Prannie is keen to emphasise the importance of sustainability, especially when it comes to harvesting seaweed, phrasing it as “giving it a good haircut.” Kneeling on the seashore of Sligo’s Streedagh beach holding a pair of sharp scissors, she demonstrates, “Always snip the seaweed, never pull them from the rocks, that damages them irreparably.”