Seaweed made simple with Ebb Tides

Tony Coulson of Sidmouth-based Ebb Tides has been eating seaweeds for much of his life

Tony Coulson of Sidmouth-based Ebb Tides has been eating seaweeds for much of his life - Credit: Archant

Coastal people have eaten seaweed since ancient times. Now the maritime ‘superfood’ is being hand-harvested on the shores of East Devon and scooping food awards. As Sharon Goble found out, it’s surprisingly simple to cook with

Tony Coulson of Sidmouth-based Ebb Tides has been eating seaweeds for much of his life

Tony Coulson of Sidmouth-based Ebb Tides has been eating seaweeds for much of his life - Credit: Archant

Beans on toast with seaweed? It may sound an unlikely combo but it’s fast becoming one of my favourite breakfasts. I’m not talking slimy green stuff strewn over my morning pulses. This kelp is dried, comes in a handy grinder, and imparts a subtle earthy flavour. It’s also incredibly good for you. What’s more, it’s harvested sustainably by one man right here on the foreshore of East Devon. Now that’s what I call keeping it local.

Tony Coulson of Sidmouth-based Ebb Tides is the man responsible for my recent culinary adventures with seaweed. He’s been eating seaweeds for much of his life since first spotting them in a health food shop some 30 years ago. “My body fell in love with them before my head,” he tells me. “I just felt they were doing me good.”

When I meet Tony on the beach on one of his harvest days, I’m surprised to discover he hails from land-locked Nottingham where he started out as a psychotherapist. At the time, fly-fishing was his hobby but he became hooked and decided to re-train in fisheries and agriculture. He spent a long stint in Scotland working in aquaculture and fisheries, before falling in love with Sidmouth on holiday and deciding to relocate from the far north to the far south. After more than a decade working in environmental protection, he again looked to the sea for inspiration when he decided to set up his own business in 2016.

“I knew seaweeds were becoming more popular and the market seemed to be largely untapped for this sustainable food, so I started doing some research and found that the East Devon coast has an abundance of seaweed. I gather twelve different species. There are 10,000 species across the world, of which 99% are in theory edible but many are too small to eat, or don’t taste good.”

Britain’s foreshore is owned by the Crown Estate, so Tony had to apply for a licence before he could set up commercially. He believes he is one of only three people licensed to harvest seaweed in the UK. He rotates sites along his ‘patch’ of the Jurassic Coast, working closely with Natural England to ensure seaweed is harvested sustainably and ethically.

Tony enlisted award-winning chef Noel Corston to help create his seaweed blends for use as a main ingredient of an alternative, healthy form of seasoning. Used by Noel at his restaurant NC@EX34 in Woolacombe, they are nothing like the sweet greens widely served in Chinese restaurants. As well as the four basic tastes in cookery we are familiar with - sweet, salty, sour and bitter - Noel is a big advocate for a fifth, defined by the Japanese word ‘umami’, which means ‘a pleasant, savoury taste’. Seaweed is a great source of it.

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Ebb Tides may be a new venture but it’s already proving a hit with foodies. One of the products, Sea Salad, won silver at the 2016 Food & Drink Devon Awards.

Tony tells me: “I’m looking to simplify seaweed. I have three types, dried to capture all the goodness, presented in resealable pouches and grinders. You can sprinkle them over pizzas, roast meat, salads and stir-fries. You can use ‘Dulse’ in baking and even ice cream. They are incredibly versatile. It’s almost a crime not to utilise these marvellous plants nature has provided.”

So why, I ask, as a maritime nation have we been so slow to catch on to the joy and benefits of eating seaweed? “That’s a good question. I don’t have an answer. There’s evidence that as cavemen, we used to forage along the shoreline for shellfish and seaweed. We seem to be a conservative nation; it’s only in the last decade we’ve become more adventurous with the fish we eat, but I believe there is a growing appetite for seaweed.”

What can I do with seaweed?

Ebb Tides produces four blends:

Kelp has a deep earthy flavour. Super versatile, grind over soups, casseroles, meat and bean dishes or soak whole kelp, then add chopped to pasta and noodle dishes.

Dulse has a rich, smoky flavour with a hint of spice. Grind over roast meat, burgers and stews. Toss into salads and stir-fries. Add to bread, scones and ice cream.

Sea Salad has a delicate green flavour with a touch of pepper. Delicious ground over soups, salad, fish and meat or mixed into bread dough or mashed potatoes. Can be served lightly steamed as a vegetable on its own.

Ocean Spice, launched in late 2016, is based on a Moroccan spice mix blended with dulse seaweed which has a paprika-type taste. Mostly used as a rub for meats, poultry, fish and vegetables. It can also be used in curries and soups.

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