It’s difficult to ignore the recent boom in Veganism and the alleged health benefits of cutting back from animal produce and animal meat. What with it being slapped all over our screens the moment we log onto Instagram; it’s hard not to get sucked in. Never mind the glowing faces and beaming smiles of these vegans, it’s enough to make you… well, turn vegan I suppose!
But my one major downfall, the one thing I really couldn’t live without is bacon. Forget chicken and steak, I can easily envision a future without these slabs of meat on my plate. But on a lazy Sunday morning, with that sweet, salty smell of bacon wafting through the kitchen, slices of the stuff layered on top of some fresh toasted bread, piles of creamy, mashed avocado interlaced with the butcher’s finest smoked cuts. I can’t do without it. It’s a gift from the butcher shop gods! But it’d be nice if the guilty feeling of thinking about those innocent pigs in the back of my mind would go. I’ve seen vegetarian bacon, and it looks like the plastic sole of a shoe when frozen, and even worse when cooked. It’s not enough to stop you from eating the real deal.
This is why, when I stumbled across the news that a group of top researchers from Oregon State University had patented a new strain of seaweed that tastes much like the bacon in our sarnies; I couldn’t help but check it out. I’m all for healthy clean eating, however I couldn’t be a vegan or vegetarian because I love too much of what hails from the sea; fish, shellfish, but now, there’s seaweed. A good crispy seaweed from the Chinese takeaway, a little here and there sprinkled in Miso soup and of course some wrapped around sushi, it’s all good stuff. But seaweed that tastes like bacon? We’re on a whole new level here!
The new seaweed is a translucent red lettuce looking algae called ‘Dulse’ that has ‘an excellent source of minerals, vitamins, and antioxidants’ also containing ‘up to 16 percent protein by dry weight’ states Oregon’s Agricultural Progess. Dulse not only beats the real stuff for nutritional value, but also the shoe sole vegetarian crap for taste too, hands down!
Chris Langdon is the aquaculture researcher at Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Centre who discovered that Dulse has a ‘savoury saltiness, like bacon’ if pan-fried. He discovered this delicious bacon-tasting seaweed much by accident as he began growing it in order to feed abalone. Dulse has been growing on the wild and rugged shorelines of the North-Atlantic and Pacific coasts for years, including the coastlines of Ireland, Iceland and Scandinavia, and now, our very own Cornwall. So now, we have the opportunity to taste this salty-bacon seaweed from our very own shores and see what all the hype is about!
Wink Lamiroy met with Charlotte and Tim, the people behind The Cornish Seaweed Company who have been picking Dulse and lots of other types of seaweed along the Cornish coastlines for use in their meals. It’s hard to imagine a seaweed sandwich on a lazy weekend morning, but hey, if it’s going to save the piggies and make us all the healthier for it, I’m up for trying it!
What do you do?
“We sustainably hand harvest and traditionally sun dry a selection of Cornish seaweeds. These are sold around the country to delis, health food stores and top restaurants to be used as an ingredient in a range of sweet and savoury dishes.”
How did you start?
“I heard a radio program about the Irish seaweed industry three years ago and started investigating as to what was happening here in England. I found out that nothing was happening here so we went to Ireland to work with a company to learn as much as possible about the industry. Tim and I came back to Cornwall and started the company immediately afterwards.”
What is so special about seaweed?
“It’s the most amazing superfood, with more vitamins and minerals than any other food group. It’s packed with antioxidants and is anti bacterial, anti inflammatory and anti viral. It tastes amazing and can be used in regular cooking as a vegetable or seasoning.”
Can people pick their own, are there any dangers?
“People do, but you are actually not allowed to by the land owner or the Crown. Natural England is also keeping a good eye on it, to make sure the natural environment is not damaged. We test all our seaweeds for heavy metals and microbiological activity, harvest only in safe conditions and in certain remote locations. We also cut everything using scissors to allow the plants to regrow and only harvest during their main season.”
What has been the highlight so far?
“Realising that we were not bonkers! After the first two years when no one could understand what or why we were were doing what we were doing then suddenly things started to get easier and people were coming to us.”
Do you both surf and did this influence your choice of work location?
“Yes, we both spend as much time in or on the water as possible….less than we would like right now as with any small business but whenever we can. We were working as a cleaner and waiter and knew we needed to pull something else together. It was a case of looking at all the things that matter and making a business plan. The ocean was the main draw, quickly followed by healthy eating and the local sustainable foods market.”
What does the future look like – any plans?
“We are growing rapidly and taking on investment soon so that’s really exciting. I would like to work on a seaweed food van or pop up in the next few years but we will see. And to keep growing a sweet team of people who like to catch a wave when there’s time.”
What is your favourite seaweed dish?
“Stir-fry with sea spaghetti then probably dulse frittata.”
What would be an easy introduction for people to start cooking with seaweed?
“Sea spaghetti thrown into stir fries or sea salad flakes added to anything from salads to soups but we have a massive range of recipes on the website.”
For more info on all things seaweed visit the cornishseaweedcompany.co.uk