Healthy Pick: The Prize Seaweed of Grand Manan, New Brunswick

No 80

Master, master, eat this! It’s not king’s food,
That’s cooked for everybody and nobody…
…Here is the dulse, your honor;
It’s wholesome, and has the good taste of the sea.”

–W.B. Yeats, The King’s Threshold


Grand Manan Island, in the eastern Canadian province of New Brunswick, produces what is arguably the world’s finest Palmaria palmata, a seaweed commonly known as dulse. The purple kelp grows on marine rocks and has been a food source for centuries; before Europeans settled the region, Passamaquoddy First Nations people would paddle their canoes through saltwater coves to collect it.

The plummest Grand Manan dulse—the best of the best—grows in the nutrient-rich Bay of Fundy, on the western side of the island. Old-timers set out, often before dawn, in their dories, or simply put on a pair of rubber boots, and gather it underneath Dark Harbor’s 400-foot cliffs. They pick the leaves only, leaving the roots attached to the rocks. The harvest occurs over a few weeks in summer, when the dulse grows quickly, and only during the lowest of low tides. A seasoned picker can bring in about 500 pounds of it in a single outing.

Once dried, the haul shrinks to about a fifth of its wet weight. The dulsers set their seaweed out on a bed of twine netting to let it dry in the sun. They sell the dulse for food, mainly, but it also finds its way into vitamin pills and pharmaceuticals. Like many sea vegetables, dulse has considerable nutrition value. It is high in Vitamin B, contains chlorophyll, and provides a healthier source of iodine than salt.

The islanders who live among it don’t get overly hung up about the health benefits of dulse. Nor do they have elaborate recipes for it. They tend to eat it as a snack, keeping frozen quantities on hand to last the winter. They can get picky, though, especially if they’re used to the Dark Harbor variety. “You can’t feed a Grand Mananer bad dulse,” according to harvester Elton Greene. “They won’t have anything to do with it.”

Credits

  • Director - Oliver Hartman
  • Producer - Darrell Hartman
  • Cinematographer - Vadim Aynbinder
  • Editor - Matt Schaff
  • Music - Jeff Schneider
  • Color - Carlos Flores
  • Mix & sound design - Josh Wilson
  • Text - Darrell Hartman

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