What we call Irish sea moss is better known as Chondrus crispus, with other names including carrageen moss or just Irish moss. Like many things named after a place in the world, Irish moss is called that because it’s commonly found along the coasts of Ireland. Note that there’s another Irish moss, Sagina subulata, that’s ground-covering moss that you shouldn’t consume. Instead, you want the Irish sea moss that’s red algae and a type of seaweed.
The distribution of Irish sea moss doesn’t end in Ireland, however. It’s found along other cold European coasts like Iceland, the Faroe Islands, and the Baltic Sea. The same can be said for Canada and the American northeast, particularly Maine and the New England region as a whole.
It has also been found in more varied and warmer climates, like the coasts of southern Spain, the Caribbean, California, and Japan. It should be noted that often, these are other forms of red algae with a similar nutritional profile. Genus Gracilaria is another common red algae that are often confused for Irish sea moss, or sold as Irish sea moss knowingly to profit off of health trends without going through the effort of acquiring a genuine product.
So why is it called Irish sea moss? In the Anglosphere, it’s known as Irish sea moss because the red algae played an important part in its history. During the Irish Potato Famine of the 1800s, the people of Ireland sought nutrition wherever they could. Many emigrated from Ireland, that’s how dire the situation was and how little food there was available to the common folk.
This is where they turned to historically medicinal sea moss and discovered that they were also small packages of nutrients. Small, abundant, and providing a lot of nutritional value, this moss quickly gained a name for itself as Irish sea moss and was sold overseas when the Famine was over.
Under other circumstances, what we call Irish sea moss could have easily been named after any of these distinct growing locations across the globe. Because of its widespread distribution, there’s no guarantee that any Irish sea moss you buy through suppliers has ever existed in Ireland, it’s just a name relating to where the moss is famous for growing.
Where Is Irish Sea Moss Found?
Irish sea moss isn’t limited to just Ireland. It has a widespread distribution of reliable habitats where the moss is cultivated and able to be harvested. These are mainly in the Atlantic sea and, as a result, Irish sea moss from outside the Atlantic should be verified as it’s likely it’s just another seaweed common to the Pacific. That’s right, while Irish sea moss is found globally throughout Atlantic sea coasts, it can also be found even further afield.
You can find Irish sea moss all over the world, though the likelihood of you finding it varies. For example, you can find Irish sea moss much easier in Ireland than you can expect to find it naturally in Japan. Most Irish sea moss in Japan is imported and sold to the country’s multi-billion-dollar “sea vegetable” industry, where seaweed is a staple of their diet, but it’s becoming more popular as a food additive in the West nowadays.
Here's a comprehensive breakdown of the countries where Irish sea moss has been reliably documented. Note that the primary harvesting points of Irish sea moss are in the American northeast and the European northwest, and that other distributions of Irish sea moss will be harder to find if you plan on gathering it yourself.
The coasts of the Republic of Ireland
The coasts of the United Kingdom
The southern coast of Iceland
The Iberian Peninsula (western coast of Spain and Portugal)
The western coast of France
The northern coast of Belgium
The northern coast of the Netherlands
The northern coast of Germany
The western coasts of Denmark
The western and southern coast of Norway
The southwestern coast of Finland
The western coast of Estonia
The western coast of Latvia
The western coast of Lithuania
The western coast of the Kaliningrad enclave, Russia
The southeastern coast of Labrador
The coasts of Newfoundland
The coasts of Nova Scotia
The coasts of New Brunswick
The coasts of Prince Edward Island
The coast of Maine
The southeastern coast of New Hampshire
The northeastern coast of Massachusetts
If you have any concerns over getting genuine Irish sea moss instead of just red algae sold somewhere else and labeled Irish sea moss, then buy from trustworthy sources. Even better, you could harvest it yourself if you live near the coast of the above locations, though this can be tricky. Failing that, buy from sources in these areas who have more access to Irish sea moss and do your due diligence to see if the product they offer is genuine.