Where the salt-laden waters meet the rocky coast, you will often find billowing, brown fields of wrack ready for picking. This is a flexible type of seaweed that can be used in a variety of dishes, from sweet to savory.
Where to Find It
Found along coastlines in Denmark, wrack often washes onto the beach in large, brown mats. Suctioning itself onto rocks or shells, it prefers to grow close to the shore—often in areas that will dry out at low tide. Unlike bladderwrack, which wrack is often mistaken for, it is covered in a practical layer of mucus that helps it retain moisture.
When to Find It
Wrack can be harvested year round, but it is the easiest to during early spring.
Top shoots: March, April, May, June.
How to Spot It
Though yellow or olive green in color, wrack is classified as a brown algae. Reaching lengths of 30-40 cm, it anchors itself to rocks by means of small suction pads at its base. At the tip of its fronds, round or heart-shaped fruit bodies—called "receptacles"—store the wrack’s seeds.
How to Pick It
If large piles of wrack have washed up on the beach, it’s because storms and currents have torn them loose from their beds. Don’t collect washed-up wrack. Instead, stick to the fresh, live kelp that you can pick along the beach. There may be barnacles, algae or other growths on the fronds, so focus on the nicest, cleanest specimens you can find, and remove the outer shoot with scissors or a knife—this way you'll be left with the best-tasting part. Low tide makes it easier to reach live algae. You can also dive for spiral wrack; it grows 1-2 meters below the water’s surface.
On the palate
Wrack has a mild and pleasantly briny taste, with a tremendous amount of ocean umami flavor and a raw snap to it. The flavor can vary a great deal depending on where and when the wrack grew; in summer, for example, it takes on rather smoky or iodine-like notes. Once the wrack has been dried, it has more of a mineral flavor.
Wrack has a mild scent of the ocean and shellfish.
If the wrack is fresh, you can eat it raw after rinsing and slicing it into thin strips. Cooking, however, makes it more tender. Wrack can be baked, grilled, or boiled. It’s especially tasty when dried and eaten as a chip, or when ground and used as seasoning.
You can add dried, powdered wrack to bread dough or sprinkle it onto most types of meat, where it will highlight the umami flavor. It does the same for fish and vegetarian dishes. The wrack also works in sweet dishes—for example, in homemade ice cream or paired with dark chocolate. It can be made into tea by pouring boiling water over the thin, fresh top shoot and letting it steep. You can also cut off the wrack’s fruit bodies, rinse and blanch them, and fill them with lobster meat to make little raviolis of the sea. Or, cut the bodies apart and make wrack capers by salting and pickling them.
Store the fresh wrack in a sealed bag or airtight container inside the crisper drawer of your refrigerator. Place a moist dishcloth over it to keep it fresh and crisp. Rinsing the wrack with fresh water will reduce its shelf life. If you want to store the wrack for a period longer than a few days, you’ll need to dry it and store it in an airtight container. Once rehydrated, the wrack will keep for one day in the refrigerator.
Wrack can be replaced with serrated wrack and bladderwrack.
Risk of misidentifying the plant
There is no risk of mistaking the plant for another dangerous or undesirable plant.