The call of the sea
November 1, 2016
In the never-ending quest for innovation in food and for new reliable, sustainable ingredients, seaweed is emerging as a rising star. A promising long-term, sustainable source of protein, part of its appeal is the large number and wide variety of benefits associated with the product and the way it is grown. Fast growing and with no need to use scarce agricultural land, it is a plant species which has evolved over billions of years to be rich in proteins, vitamins and oils, and is a good source of iodine and antioxidants.
The simplest of one-cell plants, seaweed converts light energy into eatable energy, contains no saturated fatty acids but a lot of dietary fibre, vitamins and minerals. It has long been a staple in East-Asia, where the most often-eaten seaweeds and algae are Nori, laver, wakama and spirulina. Now seaweeds have come to the fore in Europe in sushi and other East-Asian dishes. New uses, it seems, are being explored and its popularity among chefs as an ingredient is growing, not least because it is suitable for all special diets; vegan, vegetarian, lactose-free, gluten-free, rich in protein, low in carbohydrates.
Asked how they view the potential of seaweed in the onboard environment, chefs on my trip highlighted ideas which use it dried, or dried and then revived; added as a garnish; or used in combination with fish. The fact that it is easy to preserve and compact adds to its appeal for catering on the move and the choice of seaweed varieties ensures it brings added interest to the plate.
Among those being harvested for commercial use are wakame, sea lettuce, red horned seaweed, dulse, sea oak, laver, Irish moss, codium, Japanese berries and fishing wire seaweed, so-called because it looks like a jumble of fishing line!
Seaweed is also being used in medicines and cosmetics and can even be used to make ale. Williams Bros Brewing Co in Scotland has a Kelpie Seaweed Ale – bitter-sweet and slightly salty, brewed with a little hint of chocolate which comes from the use of dulse.
Seamore Food’s founder, Willem Sodderland, mistook seaweed for pasta, and loved the experience so much he decided to fool the rest of the world too. The I Sea Pasta range looks like tagliatelle but is 100% wild, handpicked seaweed from Connemara, Ireland. High in goodness and low in calories it has onboard potential not least because it can be stored for three months and contains no allergens.
Seaweed snacks are fast putting up a challenge in the snacking aisle of supermarkets too, as a healthy alternative to crisps. Itsu, Oceans Halo, GimMe Health Foods, Inspiral and Spanish brand Porto Muinos are among those with seaweed snack offerings, and even big businesses such as Pret a Manger and Pringles are getting in on the act.
Mara Seaweed is making its mark with a range of seasonings created from shony, dulse and kombu seaweeds and is picking up for foodie awards and chef recommendations all over the place.
And to serve it all up, how about disposable organic tableware made out of seaweed? It’s suitably light for the aviation market and designed by Amber Sophie van Dillen.
Seaweed I discovered even has its own ambassador. Toine Wilke, founder of Allsea, a company specialising in seaweed, brands himself ‘Seaweedman’ (Seaweedman.nl) He says: “After eating seaweed as a surfer and an internship at the world’s largest seaweed company, plus reading hundreds of scientific papers on seaweed and health, I know now: Seaweed is our future food. Every day I show people how amazing is it to add a few grams of seaweed to their daily dishes. I have done scientific research on seaweed, which won an important award in the food industry, and now I just want everyone to ‘sea the future’, and long for a daily dose of vitamin sea, like me!” •