It is an ingredient which is in abundance in Scotland and centuries ago our ancestors had the knowledge to incorporate it into their diet.

Seaweed is everywhere and for some it might just be that unpleasant tangled mess on a beach, however to others it is something which could have health benefits including fighting off colds and helping to boost your immune system.

And this week it was announced researchers are leading a study of an over the counter nasal spray from Boots which contains an ingredient found in seaweed. The team at Swansea University is looking to see if it would be effective in helping to ward off coronavirus symptoms.

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It is one of the reasons founder of Scottish seaweed producer Mara is so passionate about it. Fiona Houston set up the firm which harvests from the shores of Fife and dispatched its products from its base in the Granton area of Edinburgh where it is dry milled, blended, packed.

She didn’t have to look far for inspiration as it stemmed from exploring the shores with her young family and foraging for food. Mrs Houston began experimenting with seaweed in recipes some years before even starting the business.

“Seaweed was used in the past and our ancestors would have put it in a drink or broths to heal or fight off viral infections and it is used in Asian countries on a daily basis, but we didn’t seem to do anything with what is around our own coastline and on our doorstep,” said Mrs Houston.

“With my friend Xa Milne we came up with the idea of a cookbook Seaweed and Eat it which was published in 2008. It looked at ways it could be incorporated into our daily diets. Seaweed is rich in minerals and is known for its health benefits but as a nation we weren’t using it in our food. The book really sparked a passion and I was driven to start the business which I did so a couple of years later.”

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Mrs Houston, who takes seaweed daily herself and feels it has boosted her immune system, (she says she is the last person to catch a cold) had a vision to see their produce brought to the shelves of our supermarkets and she has done just that.

“You will now find Mara products on the shelves of one of a leading supermarket. That was my goal and we did it. I wanted to make it a brand using the best of Scottish seaweed,” added Mrs Houston, a former Washington-based journalist turned entrepreneur.

“Our forebears certainly knew a thing or two about seaweed. It is very rich in iodine, iron, potassium and calcium and is very good for female health. Two thirds of British women don’t get enough iodine in their diet which can play a role in thyroid health.”

With seaweed said to be a healthier alternative to salt, it’s not just home cooks who are adopting seaweed, it has made its way into the dishes of one of Scotland’s leading chefs Colin Nicholson. He is the head chef at the restaurant at Inverlochy Castle in Fort William and has been experimenting with seaweed which led him to team up with Mara. The restaurant is operated by culinary legend Albert Roux and his son Michel Roux Jnr.

During his travels to Australia and New Zealand, Mr Nicholson discovered different and diverse ingredients and flavours and on his return to Scotland where he initially worked at Arisaig House, in the Highlands, before moving on to Inverlochy, he became interested in foraging, using sustainable foods and using local produce.

“I had been foraging for sea herbs and baking bread during lockdown and handing it out to neighbours. I have always been keen on finding more sustainable produce.

Ever since I became head chef it has been important to me where food comes from and I think it something our guests want to know as well.

“It could be from a farm along the road or the loch in front of the hotel. I was interested in the use of seaweed. It was something that was in our diet a long time ago and it seems to be something that people have rediscovered. I was aware of what Mara had been doing with seaweed and blending it in to flakes.”

Seaweed flakes looks set to be a regular on the ingredients list for recipes at Inverlochy.

He added: “It has more of an unami taste to it and I have been using it for infusions and as a salt substitute.

“People shouldn’t be afraid to try it at home either and could add seaweed flakes to salads, pasta sauce, or used in shortbread for a savoury flavour. I have been using them in savoury biscuits for canopies or puffed crackers.”

Mr Nicholson has always been keen to support local and Scottish ingredients and is something his bosses Albert and Michel Roux Jnr back him on. Michel Roux Jnr was on the interview panel which Mr Nicholson faced to get the job at Inverlochy which is set to reopen its doors when restrictions in other parts of the country are lifted. Although the hotel lies in a level one area, travel restrictions have meant people are prevented from enjoying a stay at the venue.

“They are a legendary culinary dynasty and I never imagined I would have the chance to work for them. We have regular meetings and there is a lot of involvement with Michel Roux Jnr. They are very supportive of things I want to do or to introduce including bringing in Scottish ingredients.”

Colin Nicholson's Mara Seaweed Cured Cod, Braised Leeks, Fondant Potato, Pickled Cockles and Seaweed Hollandaise for 2

Cured Cod

• 2 x cod (130-150g each)

• 20g salt

• 25g Sugar

• 5g Mara Seaweed Shony flakes

• 50g butter

• ½ lemon

Braised Leek and fondant Potato

• 1 Leek

• 3 Large potatoes

• 50g butter

• 200g Chicken stock (or vegetable stock)

• 1 clove garlic

• 2 sprigs of thyme

• Pinch salt

Crispy Cockles

• 20 pickled cockles

• Flour

Seaweed Hollandaise

• 3 egg yolks

• 200g butter

• 50 ml white wine vinegar

• Half shallot sliced

• 5g shony seaweed

• Pinch of black peppercorns

To Garnish

• Tender Stem Broccoli

1. Mix together salt, sugar, seaweed flakes together and on a tray sprinkle a little onto a tray, place cod onto the salt mixture then sprinkle the remaining mixture over the cod, allow to cure for 20 minutes (15 minutes if your piece of cod is thin)

2. Wash off the salt mixture off the cod and pat dry

3. Trim the leek so you only have the white/light green, cut into ½ inch cylinders, allow for 3 per person.

4. Peel the potatoes and cut into cylinders, allow for 3 per person(using cutter or apple corer)

5. Place potatoes in a medium heat pan with some oil, and colour on all sides, place the leeks in the pan to colour one end, place butter, stock, thyme and garlic in the pan and simmer until potatoes are tender(around 8-10 minutes depending on side), place pan to the side.

6. Pat dry the cockles, and place in the flour, and shallow fry or use a fryer until golden.

7. Clarify the butter by placing on the stove on a low heat until the fat separates, skimming away any solids that rise to the top.

8. Place shallots, white wine vinegar and peppercorns in a pan and reduce by ¾, strain the liquid and reserve.

9. In a heat proof bowl, place yolks and reduced vinegar and whisk over a pan of simmering water until doubled in volume

10. Remove from the heat and gently emulsify the clarified butter into the eggs with a whisk, if it splits or is too thick add a touch of warm water.

11. Whisk in your seaweed flakes

12. Place the cod skin side down(even if there is no skin) into a preheated pan until golden, turn over, place 50g of butter into the pan with a squeeze of lemon, baste the cod without allowing the butter to burn for about 2 minutes.