Have you heard the buzz surrounding the superfood Sea Moss? The popularity of red algae is centred on its many uses and nutritional value that has enormous health benefits to the human body.
If you have jumped on the seaweed bandwagon or have come across seaweed on the internet, chances are you have seen sea moss and Irish moss used interchangeably. However, sea and Irish moss are different plants that offer similar benefits when consumed.
This article summarizes everything you need to know about seaweeds from their appearance, differences, and what to consider when purchasing them.
What Is Irish Moss?
Irish moss goes by the scientific name Chondrus Crispus. Irish moss grows on rocks and tide pools of the colder regions of the North Atlantic Ocean, such as the British Isle, Canada, and Maine.
The people of Ireland were the first to document the use of Irish moss during the Irish potato famine of 1845-1849. During the Irish potato famine, millions of people were starving and had no food source. Irish people were forced to look to the ocean for food, where they discovered Chondrus Crispus. The Maine coast sea vegetables helped the Irish people survive the famine, hence why Chondrus Crispus was called Irish moss.
Chondrus Crispus mainly consists of carrageenan, proteins, amino acids, and minerals such as zinc and sulphur. Carrageenan sourced from Irish moss is insoluble and has gel-like properties, making it a suitable thickening agent for foods and drinks.
What Does Irish Moss Look Like?
Just like flowers, Irish moss has a flat fan-wide top. It also comes in various colours, such as dark purple, green or red. It is important to note that the colour it exhibits is much darker than the other tropical seaweeds.
Unlike other types of seaweeds, the Irish moss is rare and hard to find growing all year round.
Advantages Of Irish Moss
Irish moss's most significant advantage is that it is rare. Because of Irish moss's limited availability, it is impossible to grow it on farms. Therefore, when you are buying Irish moss, you do not have to worry if you are buying authentic Irish moss.
Disadvantages Of Irish Moss
Irish moss is sold at high prices because it is rare.
Irish moss takes time to harvest and is only ready for harvest in the summer. Most people try to stock up on Irish moss after the harvest, which is not a good idea since Irish moss is potent and has a short life span.
Irish moss has a strong smell compared to other sea moss species, a smell some people may find hard to stand.
What Is Sea Moss?
Sea moss (scientific name Genus Gracilaria) grows in the warmer regions of the Atlantic Ocean in South America and Africa. The Genus Gracilaria exists in hundreds of varieties, of which people know only a few dozen.
Sea moss primarily consists of agar, sterols, fatty acids, amino acids, and phenolic compounds. Most people primarily source sea moss because it provides 80% of the world's agar supply, a gel-forming polysaccharide that works like an adhesive for food and cosmetics products.
For years people have confused sea moss and Irish moss for various reasons. For instance, Irish Immigrants to Jamaica adopted the Jamaican purple sea moss as their new Irish moss making people in the country refer to Irish moss and sea moss interchangeably. Also, because the Gracilaria species can grow as purple sea moss, people mistake it for the dark purple Irish moss.
Gracilaria sea moss grows all year round on rocks and is farmed on ropes in the ocean, making it abundant and commonly consumed by people.
What Does Sea Moss Look Like?
Genus Gracilaria has a thin, finger-like appearance. It also comes in various colours, such as gold, yellow, and sometimes purple.
Advantages Of Sea Moss
It grows throughout the year in oceans, making it always available.
Due to increased demand, many companies are stocking up on sea moss, giving you a variety to choose from every time you need sea moss.
Disadvantages Of Sea Moss
Genus Gracilaria is sold at high prices by the companies stocking up on it due to its high demand as a superfood.
Because of its accessibility and demand surge, some companies have resorted to selling sea moss that grows in tanks and pools. Pool-grown sea moss is not recommended for consumption because it has fewer nutrients than sea moss grown in the ocean. Also, when growing Genus Gracilaria in the pools, chemicals are usually added to speed up their growth, eventually degrading the quality of the sea moss.
How Can I Tell The Difference Between Irish Moss And Other Sea Mosses?
Telling the sea vegetable species apart is difficult, especially when dried sea moss is packaged and attached to the wrong label.
Some of the differences to look out for include:
- Appearance: Irish moss has a multi-branched fan-like, flattened blades appearance, while Genus Gracilaria has a finger-like appearance, making the sea moss resemble noodles.
- Colour: Irish moss grows in cold environments, so it has deeper and darker shades of red or purple than Genus Gracilaria.
- The Genus Gracilaria varieties have pale colours because the tropical seaweed is exposed to more sunlight when growing and drying. Looking at the colour of the seaweed helps tell them apart, but it is not a reliable way of differentiating them. When both the seaweeds are milled, only a lab can help tell them apart by looking at their biological makeup.
- Smell: The sea vegetables species have different genetic compositions, and thus they exhibit different smells. Chondrus Crispus has a noticeable strong smell compared to Genus Gracilaria, which has a mild smell. Depending on the seaweed species you are looking for, the smell is an excellent way to tell them apart.
Does Irish Moss And Sea Moss Grow Naturally Or Farmed?
Both types of seaweed can grow naturally, but they have also been farmed in various parts of the world. Farming of Irish moss has proved unprofitable, so seaweed farmers stopped farming it. All the Irish sea moss you will likely come across in the market is wildcrafted from the ocean.
Sea moss also grows in the ocean throughout the year. To meet the demand for seaweed, many companies have resorted to farming sea moss because it is easy to grow. Consequently, over 90% of sea moss that is available in the market has been farmed in South East Asia, Africa, or the Caribbean.
Farmed sea moss consists of pool-grown sea moss, also called fake sea moss and ocean-farmed sea moss.
To grow sea moss in pools, farmers must try and replicate ocean conditions such as lighting and movements in the tanks where the seaweed is growing.
This marine aquaculture is costly and economically impossible to compete with sea moss that grows in the ocean. For this reason, growing sea moss in the pool remains mainly experimental, with only a few companies able to grow sea moss successfully.
Most farmers who engage in farming sea moss do it in the ocean by choosing sheltered areas such as bays where they can grow the seaweed in nets and ropes undisturbed. The preference for using the ocean is because of the low operating costs and the vast open ocean that can be utilized for aquaculture.
Many health experts' gurus are now warning about consuming farmed sea moss. It is important to note these experts mainly refer to pool-farmed sea moss, whose farming involves using chemicals to help the seaweed grow. The chemicals affect the nutritional composition of sea moss; hence, sea moss grown in pools is not nutrient-dense compared to sea moss farmed in the ocean.
How Can You Tell If Your Sea Moss Is Grown In Pools Or Oceans?
You can look for various traits to determine if the sea moss you consume is grown in the open ocean or pools. However, some of these traits are affected by the variety of the seaweed and how it is processed.
Some of the traits to look out for include:
- Its look: Genus Gracilaria that grows in the open ocean doesn't have a traditional look and comes in varying lengths and thicknesses. Out in the ocean, the moss is also a source of food for marine animals. Ocean-grown sea moss will likely have bits at its ends. These bits indicate that marine animals have been nibbling on it as it grows.
- On the other hand, pool-grown sea moss has a perfect look. It comes in a standard size, and the thickness of the moss is almost the same all the time.
- Salt grains: The seaweed absorbs the salt water that it grows in. Therefore, it is prevalent to see salt crystals on the surface of the sea moss when it is dried.
- If your sea moss has salt grains that appear like icing sugar or table salt, then your moss is pool grown.
- The taste of the two types of mosses is quite distinct. Genus Gracilaria grown in the ocean has a rich salt ocean taste, while Genus Gracilaria grown in pools has a rock salt taste.
- Other seaweed: Genus Gracilaria that grows in the ocean is likely to be harvested alongside other seaweed that grows with it in the ocean.
- The rough storms and waves also affect sea moss that grows in the ocean. Therefore, it is common to harvest Genus Gracilaria, which has debris and sediments.
- Genus Gracilaria growing in pools, a controlled environment, will lack dirt such as sediments and other sea vegetables when harvesting it.
- Colour tone: Genus Gracilaria that grows in the ocean comes in various colours because different species varieties will be present in the ocean.
- Sea moss that grows in pools and is bleached comes in the same colour.
Should I Buy Irish Moss Or Sea Moss?
You are probably confused as to which type of seaweed you should purchase, given that both seaweeds stand to give you the same benefits.
The answer to your question will be determined solely by your preference.
Some of the things you might consider when buying are:
Price: How much you are willing to spend on purchasing the seaweed will most likely dictate which type of seaweed you will buy.
Gracilaria moss is widely available to vendors and is cheap to purchase. Chondrus crispus sea moss species are scarce to find; therefore, it retails at a higher price than Genus Gracilaria.
Smell: Irish moss has a distinct, noticeable smell compared to Genus Gracilaria, which has a mild smell. Depending on whether you want to add the seaweed to food or beverages, the smell is something you might want to consider.
Sea moss and Irish moss are different species of seaweed that have distinct differences in appearance, availability, and smell. In addition, sea moss sourced from the ocean has more nutritional value than pool-farmed sea moss.
Both Irish moss and sea moss offer the same nutritional benefits when consumed. If you are conflicted about which moss to take, the best way to decide is to consume both the mosses and determine which one works for you best.