Irish Moss, Chondrus crispus
Chondrus crispus is a relatively small red algae reaching up to 20 cm in length. It grows from a discoid holdfast and branches four or five times in a dichotomous, fan-like manner. The morphology is highly variable, especially the broadness of the thalli. The branches are 2-15 mm broad, firm in texture and dark reddish brown in colour bleaching to yellowish in sunlight. Guiry is a similar species which can be readily distinguished by its strongly channelled and often somewhat twisted thallus. The cystocarpic plants of Mastocarpus show reproductive papillae quite distinctively different from Chondrus. When washed and sun-dried for preservation it has a yellowish translucent horn-like aspect and consistency.
Irish moss is frequently mixed with Tufted Red Weed (Gigartina stellata) or Leaf weeds (Phyllophora sp.)
Chondrus crispus is found growing on rocks from the lower mediolittoral zone to the beginning of the infralittoral zone.
Natural history :
Chondrus crispus is an industrial source of carrageenan, which is commonly used as a thickener and stabilizer in milk products such as ice cream and processed foods including lunch meat. It may also be used as a thickener in calico-printing and for fining beer or wine. Carrageenan and agar-agar are also used in Asia for gelatin-like desserts such as almond jelly.
Irish moss is also used to make a beverage popular in the Caribbean. The beverage is made by boiling the Irish moss for about an hour in water. Flavourings including vanilla, peanut, or strawberry may be added, and finally milk or sweetened condensed milk, rum and spices are added. It is usually served chilled, is very thick and is sometimes thought to have aphrodisiac qualities, and a cure for male impotence. It is also now available ready made, tinned. The Irish Moss used in the Caribbean is most often Gracilaria spp.
In parts of Scotland and Ireland, it is boiled in milk and strained, before sugar and other flavourings such as vanilla, cinnamon, brandy or whisky are added. The end-product is a kind of jelly similar pannacotta, tapioca or blancmange.
It is found on the Atlantic coasts of Canada down to Long Island Sound. Present in Quebec and in every Maritime provinces.
It also is common all around the shores of Ireland and Great Britain and can also be found along the coast of Europe including Iceland, The Faroe Islands, western Baltic Sean to southern Spain.
Bibliography and references :
Chabot R. & A. Rossignol. 2003. Algues et faune du littoral du Saint-Laurent maritime. Guide d’identification. Institut des sciences de la mer de Rimouski, Rimouski. Pêches et Océans Canada (Institut Maurice-Lamontagne, Mont-Joli. 113 p.
Gosner, K.L. 1978. A field guide to the Atlantic Seashore. The Peterson Field Guide Series. 329 p.
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