[USA] Evan Mallett of the Black Trumpet Bistro in Portsmouth was intrigued when he was approached by a University of New Hampshire marine researcher about incorporating seaweed into his menu.“It piqued my interest,” he said. “As much as I like Asian cuisine, which has used seaweed for a long time, we concentrate on Mediterranean and Latin American cuisine. So how could I use it?”
His experimentation led him to try seaweed in several iterations. He used sugar kelp – a stalwart native New England seaweed – as a wrap for lobster tamales instead of a corn husk.
“The eureka moment for me is that when I steamed it, it went from gun metal green to this vibrant kelly green color. At the right age, it’s tender and delicious.”
Mallett this weekend is on Appledore Island at the Isles of Shoals, where he is working with chef Sam Hayward of the restaurant Fore Street in Portland, Maine, to present an “eco-culinary” retreat that will feature native seaweeds on the menu. The retreat occurs the same weekend as the Maine Seaweed Festival, held to celebrate a small but vibrant seaweed market in the state.
“There’s definitely a lot of potential” for seaweed, said Sarah Redmond, a marine extension agent for Maine Sea Grant who works at the UMaine Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research.
“We’re not having rampant growth, but people are hearing about seaweed more and more. I think something big is happening, but we need more awareness for the industry to really take off.”
The reason for seaweed’s increasing popularity is simple, said Maine Seaweed Festival organizer Hillary Krafp. It is a superfood, she said.
She said when she contracted shingles years ago, she started looking for alternative healing methods. “That’s when I started diving really deep into seaweed and I was blown away by its healing capacity,” she said. “What can’t it do actually?”
Seaweed is high in iodine, and is a source of protein, vitamin B, calcium and magnesium, she said. It’s an anti-inflammatory, an anti-viral, and protects the thyroid.
As part of her job, Redmond tracks the edible industry in Maine, which includes wild harvest and aquaculture seaweed. The most popular types of wild edible seaweed is sugar kelp, dulse and Irish moss – all on a “top 10” list of native seaweeds that can be turned into consumable foods.
She has been working for the past four years with those interested in growing seaweed in an aquaculture setting. The Center for Cooperative Aquaculture Research is working to cultivate native species that can be transplanted to grow in controlled farms in the ocean. The three types currently in aquaculture use are sugar kelp, horsetail and winged kelp. As seaweed grows quickly and plentifully, said Maine Department of Marine Resources’s Chris Vonderweidt, interest is growing among fishermen who see it as an adjunct or potential replacement as fishing becomes more problematic.
There are currently seven wild harvest seaweed companies and seven aquaculture seaweed companies in Maine, Redmond said.
They include companies like Ocean Products, which makes “kelp cubes” and Maine’s Own Seaweed Salad; and Maine Coast Sea Vegetables, which sells various seaweeds that include dulse in whole leaf, flake, granules and power, as well as “kelp crunch” bars, seasoning and seaweed capsules.
The center recently commissioned a firm to write a market report on the edibles market in Maine as one had not been conducted. That report is not due out for a month or more, and until then, there are no firm market value numbers, she said.
Redmond said, as with any industry, there are challenges to starting a seaweed company. “There are people who are interested in getting into it, but it’s not an easy industry to get started in,” she said. “Just like with any resource-based raw material, you have to go through processing and the infrastructure is always a challenge in Maine.”
Restaurateurs are a potential source for sales as they become more familiar with seaweed’s versatility, she said.
The Maine Seaweed Council, on which Redmond and Krapf sit, includes processors, harvesters, scientists and others who have a stake in assuring this product is sustainably harvested, appropriately regulated and promoted among the general public and the Legislature. The idea behind the council is to have the mechanisms for growth in place as the industry matures.
Among the most plentiful of Maine seaweeds is called “rockweed,” and anyone who has clambered along a rocky outcrop at low tide has seen it – seaweed strings with periodic bubbles along it that grow on rock. Rockweed is in a different category than edible seaweeds in that it has been harvested in Maine for more than 40 years. Rockweed’s magic lies not in its agricultural uses.
According to Maine Department of Marine Resources, which tracks rockweed landings, around 16 million pounds were harvested last year. Raw rockweed is processed in Maine and then shipped to other companies that make the final product.
According to DMR’s Vonderweidt, rockweed ends up as a supplement to livestock, aiding in milk production. Most rockweed, however, ends up in organic fertilizer. “It unlocks micro-nutrients that aren’t readily available in land-based plants. It increases root production, and increases fruit production, and is more stress tolerant.”
Rockweed harvesters must get a license from the DMR if harvesting more than 50 pounds per day and to date four companies in Maine are processing it – all Waldoboro north. Processors and harvesters, concerned about over use, created their own management plan that calls for them to, among other things, begin cutting at 16 inches, leaving the rest to attract new growth.
The rockweed processing industry was pegged at $20 million in 2012, but Redmond said that number is unreliable, as sometimes rockweed processors will process edibles and vice versa.
Mallett of the Black Trumpet Bistro said people on Appledore this weekend ate a soup made from another local seaweed, Codium. From it, he will be making “an oceanic version of cream of spinach soup.”
James Coyer, a Cornell University professor who works at the Shoals Marine Laboratory on Appledore Island, said he thinks the future of the edibles industry is bright – as long as skilled individuals with culinary curiosity or an understanding of sustainable fishing continue to be interested.
“Trial and error, along with the creativity of the chef, will drive the answer to the question,” he said. He encourages the investment in aquaculture.
“While foraging in the wild is sort of cool, responsible foragers will realize that increasing numbers of foragers may well have the potential to overfish, just as commercial fishers have done for so many fish and shellfish fisheries,” he said. “I think the better approach is to identify the most desirable edibles and then embark on a program to culture and grow them commercially.”
As Maine continues to explore the future of edible seaweed, Vonderweidt said he sees a bright future. “There’s not a whole lot to dislike about the seaweed industry,” he said. “It’s pretty great.”
View original article at: Fledgling edible seaweed industry growing in Maine