Now that we know eating too much kale can poison us with heavy metals, it’s time to find a new superfood addiction. Enter dulse, a new variety of seaweed that’s twice as healthy as kale and tastes just like bacon. (Though it admittedly doesn’t have the same satisfying crunch.)
Discovered by researchers from the Hatfield Marine Science Center at Oregon State University (OSU), the bizarre sea vegetable is a new strain of succulent red algae officially called palmaria mollis that’s packed with vitamins and minerals and looks like a head of maroon lettuce. What’s more, it contains 16 percent protein by dry weight.
Dulse naturally grows along the Pacific and Atlantic coastlines, where it’s harvested, dried, and sold as either a cooking ingredient or a nutritional supplement. But it can also be farmed and happens to grow very quickly (the team has harvested 20 to 30 pounds per week), giving it serious potential in the trendy superfood realm.
There hasn’t been much interest in eating the plant fresh but, according to chief researcher Chris Langdon, it tastes like bacon when it’s fried. “And it’s a pretty strong bacon flavor,” he says.
The Oregon Department of Agriculture recently provided the research crew with a grant to explore dulse as a “specialty crop,” giving it the validation needed to be used as a main ingredient in dishes outside of sushi. “This is a huge step forward,” says Michael Morrissey, director of OSU’s Food Innovation Center. “Until now, there has never been a seafood included on the specialty crop list.” The team has its sights set on crackers, chips, ice creams, and salad dressings. Honestly, we’d opt for seaweed-dusted pork chops.
While this veg is brand new for Americans, people in Northern Europe—including Ireland, Iceland, and Scandinavia—have been eating the red seaweed for centuries. Damn, we really need to get out more.
“This stuff is pretty amazing,” Langdon told OSU. “When you fry it, which I have done, it tastes like bacon, not seaweed. And it’s a pretty strong bacon flavor.”
Though no analysis has been done yet to find out whether commercializing the bacon-seaweed would be practical, the team thinks the vegan and vegetarian markets may be interested. Toombs’ MBA students are hard at work on a marketing plan for a new line of specialty foods.
Some red algae is sold in the US now, but it is a different strain from the one harvested at OSU. Langdon says he is growing about 20 to 30 pounds of the stuff a week, but he plans to more than triple the production.