Seaweed is cropping up in the most unlikely places. The nutrient-rich marine algae is in demand being included in more and more products such as pasta, biscuits, gin and a range of snacks. Meanwhile chefs and celebrities hail it as a go-to ingredients and it even featured in Dragons Den recently when the five dragons were confronted by a duo seeking investment for a new seaweed snack brand. For the companies which harvest seaweed, its rise in popularity can only be good news. Produce Business UK investigates.
Dragons Den exhibited somewhat uncertain attitudes towards the seaweed snacks provided by Welsh-based Selwyn’s Seaweed, who have been harvesting seaweed around the coast of the Gower Peninsula for many years. A visit to Japan highlighted the possibility of seaweed style snacks. Selwyn’s Seaweed resultant Japanese flavoured roasted seaweed snacks involved combinations of tastes: honey & sesame, seasalt & vinegar, coconut and chilli. Selwyn Seaweed was seeking £70,000 investment in return for a 20% share in the company. Their bid was unsuccessful due to queries over the cost of their factory, but interestingly several of the dragons were interested in the healthy seaweed snacks and the potential market opportunity it represented.
Last year Mintel predicted that seaweed could become the next superfood, pointing out the way in which seaweed related food and drink launches have increased rapidly. The health giving qualities of seaweed are regarded as being one of its strongest attractions since it is low in calories, contains over 50 minerals and trace elements required by the human body and is also rich in protein.
Chefs are certainly using it more frequently. Dev Biswal, chef patron of The Ambrette restaurants is typical. He says “Not only do seaweed and other sea plants add colour and taste delicious, they are worthy of superfood status being great for digestive health, are high in nutrients and have fantastic detox properties. Studies have shown that eating seaweed slows down digestion and makes food release energy more slowly.”
“By incorporating it into my plates at The Ambrette I can not only give my diners a real taste of the county that surrounds them, but I can provide them with these additional health benefits. Much of the greenery on the plates I serve is produce of the sea and coastal areas.
“My local seafood platter is a great example – the day’s catch is set against a background of pickled rock samphire and locally foraged kelp. The Ambrette’s famous soft shell crab wouldn’t be what it is without the foraged rock samphire served with crab raita, and the locally grown sea purslane salad alongside the homemade crab and beetroot cake.”
It was through eating a seafood platter in Ibiza, that Seamore Pasta’s founder discovered the merits of seaweed. He was surprised to find that the ‘green tagliatelle’ he thought he was eating, was actually seafood. This provided the germ of an idea which is now a reality – seaweed pasta. The result was a business called Seamore Pasta using 100% organic Himanthalia Elongata (also known as sea-throng or sea spaghetti) seaweed grown in the waters of the Irish coastline. Growing on rocks, it can reach up to 2.5m in length between April and July.
As it is a healthy food, gluten free, vegan and vegetarian friendly; the I Sea pasta is a concept which matches the emerging key eating trends, thus providing considerable scope for development. With cooking conditions the same as pasta, it can be used to accompany many different sauces and uses. Potential recipes are provided, including two by Ottolenghi showing how it could fit into curries, lasagne, tapenades, and more. The company believes that there is considerable scope to extend the use of seaweed in other novel ways. A popular option emerging within the Seamore social media community is “I Sea Bacon” and there have even been suggestions of “I Sea Bread.”
The increasing number of new products utilising seaweed is reflected in the rise in the number of seaweed farmers harvesting this natural product from the sea. There are many types of edible seaweed, and these are generally divided into three types: finer seaweeds like laver and sea lettuce; short stemmed seaweed like dulse, Irish Moss and Carragheen; and horse tail style kelps which grow on or below the tide mark.
For some companies, seaweed helps to emphasise the local origin of their product. Stag Bakeries, for example, is one of the most remote bakeries in the UK being situated on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Stag Bakeries wanted to create a range with provenance and, because of their location, it naturally had to incorporate a taste of the sea.
Stag developed a seaweed range, using a unique blend of seaweed that is sustainably sourced from the Isle’s sea lochs and also includes a sprinkling of Hebridean sea salt to ensure that each mouthful evokes the ocean. This seaweed blend was added to its Hebridean Water Biscuit, traditional Scottish Oatcake and Scottish Shortbread.
Similarly, the Dà Mhile Seaweed Gin from the Irish based Dà Mhile company is specifically designed to complement seafood as it is infused with hand picked seaweed from the Celtic coast. The resultant gin not only has a seaweed taste, but also a green colour and the aroma of the sea.
Some companies such as Mara Seaweed have created a wide range of items containing the product particularly as a nutritional and functional supplement replacing salt as a flavour enhancer. It’s Shony and Furikake seaweed mixes are now being sold alongside herbs and spices in the condiments aisles of Morrison’s supermarkets.
Furikake is a combination of chilli, sesame seeds and dulse seaweed, while Shony is a blend of four types of seaweed: red, green, and brown, producing a colourful mix of flakes.
And it is not only human food in which seaweed is proving to be a key ingredient. There is a range of dog biscuits sold via Occado : Alfie & Molly’s Salmon and organic Seaweed bites. Clearly the market for seaweed products is becoming more extensive than one might anticipate. The long term potential is considerable.