When Jacques S Zaneveld wrote on marine algae, he said: “the different species of Porphyra furnish a plentiful supply of food to quite distant regions of the earth”.
Various species were harvested in Scotland, Wales and Ireland to make laverbread, and cultivated in countries such as Japan, Hawaii and the Philippines as a sea vegetable.
In East Asia, nori (which includes Porphyra species such as P. tenera, P. pseudolinearis and P. yezoensis) is one of the most commonly used seaweeds for human consumption.
The name Porphyra is the Greek word for a purple-red colour, although the plant can also be olive-green or chocolate-black.
Scientific name: Porphyra spp.
How to Use Laver
Laver was served for breakfast “made into small flat cakes, and fried crisp in the bacon fat or heated with butter, lemon juice, and pepper and served with roast mutton”.
In the Commander Islands of the Bering Sea, a dish similar to laverbread was also prepared with Porphyra.
In Wales, in particular, P. umbilicalis is eaten in salads, biscuits and as an accompaniment to roasted meat.
While Welsh laverbread (bara lawr) is also known as Welsh caviar, apparently without any irony, by older people in Wales.
Traditionally eaten for breakfast, with bacon dripping or with cockles, in early times it was even added as a seaweed puree to oatmeal.
Its use has declined in Wales, although as one writer mentions, “if one has grown up eating laverbread for breakfast…it is difficult to do without it”.
It is still supplied by Selwyn’s Penclawdd Seafoods to Harrods in London. Five generations of the same family have now made laverbread for Selwyn’s and the company produces one ton of laverbread a week during the seaweed season.
In Ireland, where the plant was called by many names, including sleabhac, it could be eaten from the pot sometimes with a piece of bacon, or from the pan with a knob of garlic butter.
Other local recipes describe the dried seaweed crumbled over an egg in a cup or on raw tomatoes or lightly steamed carrots.
Laver is probably best known as nori to the rest of the world; it is a popular wrapper for sushi and a flavouring for soups and salads.
It can even be fried and eaten as a snack with beer.
It is worth noting however, that British laver is not the nori (P. yezoensis or P. tenera) of Japan.
Toxicity, Contraindications & Side Effects
There are few indications as to the toxic effects of Porphyra as a food or medicine.