Field of Science

Deep Fried Moss

I was incredibly excited to find out about the Danish* restaurant Noma serving fried moss on the menu! My sister heard the story on a podcast from the America's Test Kitchen. In the show, host Christopher Kimball interviews RenĂ© Redzepi, the chef of Noma, during Segment #2 and the fried mosses are briefly mentioned at the end of their interview. Considering this restaurant is located in Copenhagen* and is on the extremely pricy end I don't think that I will be eating fried mosses there any time soon. But I really wanted to get a look at a plate and I did some hunting around online. 

There are a number of people who have taken photos of their plates and have posted them up online. I didn't want to repost personal photos, so I linked to a few of them that you can check out below.


After looking at a few of the plates did you discover the truth? It is not in fact a fried bryophyte, but is a fried lichen! Oh the mossy-misnomers. One of the common names for the lichen Cladonia rangiferina is reindeer moss and that is the organism that is fried and intended for eating. There are, however, mosses on the plates. Many of the plates look to be covered in Leucobryum, the pin cushion moss. Serving platters are typically washed and reused. Do you think they rinse off the mosses and then used them to serve the next customer. I would hate to hear that they tossed out the mosses after a single serving.


Leucobryum
I also wonder if anyone tries to eat the bryophyte mosses off the plate? If they did, I don't think that they would find them too tasty or with much nutritional value. Not many animals eat mosses. Just a few northern creatures, such as caribou and lemmings. Based on caribou stomach contents, they mainly eat mosses during the winter and probably just to fill hungry stomachs. I remember a great graphic showing the percentages of items found in the stomachs of caribou throughout the year with a spike in the mosses during the winter, but I couldn't locate the study. If this reference rings a bell for anyone please drop a message in the comments. 

* An earlier version of this blog post incorrectly locate Noma in Norway. The restaurant Noma is actually located in Copenhagen, Denmark. Thanks to the commenter who pointed out the geographic error.

6 comments:

  1. Although we have Reindeer Moss here in northern Maine, I have heard of no daring individual serving it up for dinner. And if I had, I would have been critical. Perhaps it is both more plentiful and faster growing in Norway. I did make a family booboo by asking my brother-in-law, in a testy voice, if he had any idea how long it took to grow the patch that he was cheerfully crunching with his foot.

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    1. I agree that the age of organisms that we are eating or stepping on is an important part of the discussion. Lichens are slow growing (Dunford et al 2006) and the ones Noma is serving could easily be 100+ years old (Ahti 1959). Wild collected lichens are not a sustainable menu item and sustainable lichen farming does not seem like a realistic solution. It reminds me of the unrealistic idea to "sustainably" harvest Rhino horns. http://www.npr.org/blogs/pictureshow/2012/03/10/148314276/in-battle-for-rhino-horns-a-clash-of-cultures

      Bringing up these types of issues often results in difficult conversations, because many people would just like to ignore the consequences of our actions (ex. global climate change). Thanks for adding this perspective to the discussion and challenging me to think about eating lichens from angle of conservation and sustainability!

      Ahti, T. 1959. Studies on the caribou lichen stands of Newfoundland. Annals of the Botanical Society. Vanamo. 30(4): 1-44.

      Dunford, Jesse S.; McLoughlin, Philip D.; Dalerum, Fredrik; Boutin, Stan. 2006. Lichen abundance in the peatlands of northern Alberta: implications for boreal caribou. Ecoscience. 13(4): 469-474.

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  2. Isn't Copenhagen in Denmark?

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    Replies
    1. You are correct. Thanks for catching my geographical error. I will get it fixed it in the text ASAP.

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  3. I have heard of at least another moss, a real moss in this case, served as a delicatessen: it was in a sort of "tapa" presented in a contest in northern Spain. The chef tried to reproduce the "flavor of the forest", whatever this means, and on the top of it (I can't remember any other detail but the botanical topping) added a piece of mushroom Boletus edulis and a twig of the moss Pseudoscleropodium purum. Of course little can be said in favor of the presence of the moss there but maybe an excuse to rise the price of your dinner.

    Now that I have seen it I wonder what does a deep fried Cladonia taste like. That must be a funny texture.

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    Replies
    1. I agree that the experience of deep fried Cladonia would be all about the wild texture and mouth-feel. I imagine it being many small explosions of the branches inside one's mouth. I don't think the underlying lichen would actually have much flavor and would guess that the fried breading or oil would be the tasty part.

      As for the moss added to the mushroom dish it does sound like a ploy to up the price of the dish. I do really like the idea of "the flavor of the forest", but I think that could have been achieved with the earthy flavors of the mushroom alone.

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