Tag Archives: vegan gelatin

Friday Fellow: Irish Moss

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Growing abundantly along the North Atlantic coasts, our newest Friday Fellow is a cartilaginous red alga commonly known as Irish moss or scientifically as Chondrus crispus, which means something like “curly cartilage”.

chondrus_crispus

The Irish moss usually appears as a mass of curly cartilaginous and soft seaweed with a red or purple tinge. Photo by Wikimedia user Kontos.*

Reaching about 20 cm in length, the Irish moss is attached to the substrate by a discoid base and its thallus branches dichotomously four or five times. The width of the branches may vary from about 2 to 15 mm and the color is even more variable, ranging from green or yellowish to dark red, purple, brown or even white. As with all plants, the Irish moss has a gametophyte (haploid) and a sporophyte (diploid) form. The gametophytes have a blue iridescence (as seen in the photo above), while the sporophytes show a dotted pattern (seen above as well).

The Irish moss is edible and relatively well known among the communities living where it grows. In Ireland and Scotland, it is boiled in milk and sweetened to produce a jelly-like product. The cartilaginous or jelly-like appearance of this alga and its derivatives are due to the presence of high amounts of carrageenan, a polysaccharide that is widely used in food industry as a thickening and stabilizing agent and as a vegan alternative to gelatin.

Due to its economic importance, the Irish moss is cultivated in tanks for the extraction of carrageenan and other products. Both gametophytes and sporophytes produce carrageenans of different types that can be used for different purposes.

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References:

Chen, L. C.-M.; McLachlan, J. (1972) The life history of Chondrus crispus in culture. Canadian Journal of Botany 50(5): 1055–1060. http://doi.org/10.1139/b72-129

McCandless, E. L.; Craigie, J. S.; Walter, J. A. (1973) Carrageenans in the gametophytic and sporophytic stages of Chondrus crispus. Planta 112(3): 201–212.

Wikipedia. Chondrus crispus. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chondrus_crispus >. Access on August 1, 2017.

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Filed under Algae, Botany, Friday Fellow