Why you should care
Because there is finally a seaweed worth pigging out on.
When you hear the word seaweed, “delicious” doesn’t immediately spring to mind. But bring bacon into the picture and you get people’s attention. Like in late July, when the viral-news world was briefly enamored by the announcement from a team at Oregon State University’s Food Innovation Center that they had paired two powerfully disparate tastes to make a new delight: bacon-flavored seaweed. Since then, those culinary wizards at the FIC have been developing a small fleet of edible seaweed (they prefer the term sea vegetable) products set to become a sensation for health-conscious foodies across the country.
The particular type of seaweed used by the FIC is called dulse, a red-pigmented variation that is native to cold waters along the Northern Pacific and Atlantic coasts. It’s also a “superfood” of sorts, much like other trendy greens, including kale; it’s 17 percent protein and full of essential minerals. “We started off with 30 original ideas,” says Jason Ball, project research chef at the FIC. Then they did “extensive taste testing” to narrow it down to the five most popular flavors. Despite its trendy nature, the bacon-flavored variety actually wasn’t the most popular; that distinction belonged to a dulse-infused rice cake.
How does it taste? Delicious.
Seaweed snacks aren’t new. They’ve been mainstays in Japanese and Korean culture for ages, and health-conscious entrepreneurs have been trying to cash in for a few years now. What’s new here is how Ball is integrating dulse into more popular foods that don’t look or taste like seaweed but are full of all the vegetable’s benefits. The first product hitting store shelves in December is a salad dressing that will be tested out at a select number of New Seasons markets, a local artisanal grocery store in Oregon. How do dulse-infused foods taste? Delicious. As we were talking, I couldn’t stop snacking on the rice cakes, dipping celery into the dressing and munching dulse peanut brittle.
So, what’s standing in the way of a seaweed revolution? For starters, the name. Seaweed as a food is almost exclusively associated with sushi. And outside of those circles, its name doesn’t automatically register positive feelings. And even with great branding, launching a new product or variation is always a gamble. “About 50 percent of all food launches fail,” says Michael Morrissey, the FIC’s director, “and that’s not even getting into questions about production and scale.”
However, the FIC isn’t betting everything on dulse. Then again, the genesis of their idea did come after an Oregon State business professor saw plain old dulse selling for $60 a pound at Whole Foods. So don’t be surprised if, in the coming year, more and more of your friends are munching on seaweed — nay, sea vegetables — after a workout to get their protein fix. Or, if we’re all very lucky, scooping up some dulse-infused ice cream to unwind after a long day.