Researchers unveil a new strain of an edible, eco-friendly algae that combines the very best of two very different food groups.
image via (cc) flickr user sansumbrella
Sometimes it seems as if we’ve all gone a little bacon-crazy these days. From bacon-flavored alcohol to bacon-inspired art, our lust for crispy, cured pork knows no bounds. But for those who—whether for religious, health, or moral reasons—abstain from eating the stuff, researchers from Oregon State University have just the thing: Seaweed.
That’s right, seaweed. Specifically, a new super-strain of the marine algae Dulse.
Dulse, explains an OSU release, grows fast, is packed with protein, antioxidants, and minerals, and, perhaps most importantly, tastes exactly like bacon when it’s cooked up. It grows naturally along both the Pacific and Atlantic coastlines, and has long been used as a food source for high-quality abalone, which is what the researchers originally intended for their incredibly potent strain when they first started growing it 15 years ago. According to OSU fisheries professor Chris Langdon: “We were able to grow dulse-fed abalone at rates that exceeded those previously reported in the literature. There always has been an interest in growing dulse for human consumption, but we originally focused on using dulse as a food for abalone.”
image via (cc) via flickr user cookbookman
Instead, a visit from OSU business professor Chuck Toombs helped Langdon rethink his strain of the seaweed in terms of large-scale commercial farming intended for human consumption. Langdon’s dulse was sent to Portland’s Food Innovation Center where food scientists have begun experimenting with ways to transform the algae from aquatic novelty to edible mainstay. Says Toombs: “Dulse is a super-food, with twice the nutritional value of kale. And OSU had developed this variety that can be farmed, with the potential for a new industry for Oregon.”
It’s the capacity for large-scale farming that seems to separate Langdon’s super-strain from existing dulse products on the market across Europe, and in some health food stores in the United States, which are instead harvested. Professor Toombs’ MBA students are reportedly working on business and marketing plans to determine how best to both introduce the bacon-ish seaweed to the masses, and create a viable industry out of the product as well.
Dulce, which looks like a red, translucent lettuce when uncooked, is not only good for the body, but may also have a positive effect on the environment as well. Unlike large scale pig farming, which can create entire lakes of fecal and urinary byproduct, growing dulse is relatively simple and environmentally safe. Explains Toombs: “The dulse grows using a water recirculation system. Theoretically, you could create an industry in eastern Oregon almost as easily as you could along the coast with a bit of supplementation. You just need a modest amount of seawater and some sunshine.”
Which isn’t to say that people are likely going to be rushing to toss their bacon in the trash can for the promise of equally tasty seaweed, no matter how environmentally sound it might be. But, some Portland-area restaurants have already begun to incorporate it into their menus, and the prospect of enjoying the flavor of bacon without any of the requisite heart-clogging byproducts should sit nicely with those who love their breakfast meats, but don’t love the prospect of a triple-bypass. It might not happen tomorrow, but don’t be too surprised if you start seeing dulse on grocery store shelves someday in the future.
Until that day comes, though, here’s a recipe for a kale and smoked bacon salad.