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  • Writer's pictureZoë Hughes

Pepper Dulse - Osmundea Pinnatifida

This Spring Tide in March 2024 shall be known as the time of Pepper Dulse. I’ve been gathering it, nibbling it, washing it, drying it and talking about it obsessively since the first low tide. 

It deserves the attention, to be honest. The only way to describe its flavour is: incredible. When people try this for the first time they’re shocked by the little flavour bomb. It’s known as the ‘truffle of the sea’ because it has that truffly richness along with some peppery spice and a tang of ocean minerals. It’s also very common in the wild and fairly easy to identify. 

Tasting pepper pulse seaweed
The progression of joy tasting pepper dulse for the first time

Beloved by coastal communities, pepper dulse has been foraged along the shores of Scotland for generations. Its use dates back to ancient times, where it was cherished as a flavorful and nutrient-rich addition to local diets.

A matt of young pepper dulse at low tide

Key Features

  • It grows from the middle to the lower shore, meaning you need to time your harvesting with the low tide.

  • Grows upto 20 cm long. It’s a very short stubby wee seaweed.

  • Christmas tree shaped fronds that are flat, not rounded.

  • It has a plump appearance, it reminds me of succulent houseplants.

  • Higher up the shore it’s got a touch of green to it, but further out to sea it is a rich purple colour.

  • It looks very similar to other Osmundea species, but they taste similar so don’t worry about this.

  • All seaweed (as long as it's alive and growing in the intertidal zone) is edible so it is safe to taste for identification. Look for the mustard and garlic hit.

  • Grows straight from rocks in matts or out of cracks in the rocks.

Pepper dulse seaweed in rich purple colour

Lookalikes to be aware of

The main seaweed this gets confused with is Carrageen, which is not a dangerous mistake, just a disappointing one. Carrageen lacks the plumpness of pepper dulse and entirely lacks  any flavour whatsoever. The taste test will set you right. 

Remember that all seaweed is edible as long as:

  1. The seaweed is alive, don’t eat decaying detached seaweed.

  2. You’re on foot at the coast. There is a toxic seaweed that grows below the low tide line, so you might encounter this while out fishing or diving.

Pepper dulse does have some close botanical relations who look very similar. Namely Royal Fern Weed, which looks the same but grows upto 20 cm. They are both edible and taste the same. If you have a hand lens on you, you can distinguish the two by the holdfast, though it’s small so you will need equipment to see properly. Pepper dulse has a creeping root-like holdfast, while Royal Fern Weed has a discoid holdfast. However, this is not important from the point of view of foraging as both taste the same.

Royal Fern Weed. Note how much bigger it is than pepper dulse


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