Researchers have discovered a strain of seaweed that apparently tastes just like bacon when it’s fried, and has twice the nutritional value of kale.
The miracle seaweed is a fast-growing strain of red marine algae called dulse (Palmaria sp.), which grows wild along the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines and looks a lot like translucent red lettuce.
Scientists already knew that it was packed with antioxidants and vitamins, and contains up to 16 percent protein in dry weight, but usually it’s harvested and sold dry as a cooking ingredient or nutritional supplement in Europe. But over the past 15 years, scientists at Oregon State University have created a new strain that can be farmed, and they’ve found that it also has some unique taste benefits.
“There hasn’t been a lot of interest in using it in a fresh form,” lead researcher Chris Langdon says in a press release. “But this stuff is pretty amazing. When you fry it, which I have done, it tastes like bacon, not seaweed. And it’s a pretty strong bacon flavor.”
Langdon bred the strain while trying to find a new superfood source to help abalone – aquatic mollusks that are incredibly popular in Asia – grow faster.
“Dulse is a superfood, with twice the nutritional value of kale,” said business researcher Chuck Toombs, who’s helping to commercialize the project. “And [Oregon State University] had developed this variety that can be farmed, with the potential for a new industry for Oregon.”
And that was before they realized that it tasted like bacon. Oregon State has now patented the new dulse strain, and Langdon and his team are working with chefs and the university’s Food Innovation Centre in Portland to experiment with ways it could be used as an ingredient. They’re already growing 20 to 30 pounds a week, and Langdon says they could quickly triple the production.
Although there’s been no research done as yet into how well the crop could be commercialized, Toombs’s MBA students are now working on a marketing plan for a line of specialty foods, with the vegan and vegetarian markets in mind. If it really does turn out to be a nutrition dense food as savory as bacon, they probably won’t be able to keep it on the shelves!