I love to eat most of the things which come out of the ocean onto our plates: Fish, mussels, scallops, lobster, crabs and so on and so forth. When we eat sushi, the obligatory wakame salad is usually next to it as side dish. Since we are planning to travel to Japan this fall, I am pretty much inspired by the Japanese cuisine leading to all kinds of variations with wakame at home: As salads, in miso soups or as salty snacks.
I didn’t realise for quite some time, that Iceland has its own version of wakame: It is called Söl. I even once gave it as a prezzie to my mum when I came home for a visit. She repeatedly asked me what she shall do with it, but I had no clue to what it even was. My only goal when buying it was to get her “something from Iceland” she didn’t had tasted yet, which turned out to be not an easy venture. When the penny finally dropped, I understood I could make an Icelandic version of all kinds of wakame dishes. I haven’t tried yet, but I will soon.
What is söl
For all of you who are still wondering, what söl really is, here some facts.
- It is the Icelandic word for dulse [palmaria palmata] and
- is a red algae [Rhodoplantae]
- Söl or dulse is growing in the intertidal zone – which means in the costal areas which are left exposed during low tide – of the Northern Atlantic Ocean.
- It is full of
- minerals, like iodine and calcium,
- vitamins, like vitamine A, C or B12,
- fibre and
- protein. In fact, söl has so much protein (max. 30 gr) that it is considered a superfood for athletes and sportsmen. It is also said to contain antioxidants, which further contributes to its potential as superfood.
Söl grows actually on every beach in Iceland. There are even several place names connected to it – here some examples: Sölvabásar (Reykjanes peninsula), Sölvatangi (Westfjords) or Sölvalaut (Snæfellsnes). Locations with the name söl in it you’ll find especially in the West, Westfjords and South-West. Interestingly, not so many in North Iceland and none in the East. One might think this indicates it isn’t as plentyful found there. The reason behind this however might be the softened tidal range differences in the North and East, which makes it more difficult to harvest it in these areas. Akureyri (North) for example has a tidal range of only max. 1,2 metres. Reykjavík (South-West), however as much as much as 4 metres, which makes it way easier to harvest it there. This effect resulted in a historcal trade for söl between the North-East and the South-West and apparently in the name naming of several places, as Aðalsteinn Hákonarson from Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies confirms: “Söl is a plural word and the genitive form is sölva. In general names of the kind you mentioned are most likely connected with “söl. However one may wonder about names of places that are not directly by the sea. In some instances the names may be connected to the male name Sölvi””
How Icelanders eat it
The statement from Wikipedia, that “in Iceland, the tradition is to eat it with butter” I could not verify. All of my colleagues and friends said, they eat it primarily as a snack. That means – if they eat it at all, they eat it straight out of the box. It is sold in supermarkets where you can find it in the health, fruit or snack area – so, that makes sense. It is usually sold by the brand “Íslensk Hollusta“, at least this is the only brand I have encountered so far selling it. They harvest it by hand in South Iceland and air dry it – all natural. My beloved book “Traditional Icelandic food” by Guðrún Helga Sigurðardóttir mentiones that “an example of an Icelandic hearty meal consisted of dried fish, seaweed [editor’s note: söl] and angelica roots.” When asking her why it is missing in her culinary book, Guðrún Helga states, that “I have tasted söl, but I don’t eat it on a regular basis. It has not been given much attention during my childhood and adulthood in Iceland even though it was important in the olden days. Though söl is having a comeback in Icelandic food culture.”
Söl is having a comeback in Icelandic food culture.
She is right. Söl was used in the old times to eke out grains for baking bread. In a document from the 16th century, which is known to have been especially harsh, it is recommended to be served as food for school boys, since it is so nutritious.
Today söl is used as that one extraordinary ingredient for delicacies like snaps or sausages and is used at high-class restaurants, like my favourite “Matur og Drykkur” or hyper-stylish SOE Kitchen 101. I even found a funky recipe for a dulse coffee chocolate cake. Since I was always sceptic about a red beet cake, which turned out to be awesome, I had to definetly give this recipe a try as well. It tastes great. Just don’t overdo it with the dulse and it’ll blend in perfectly with the chocolate and coffee flavor.