[USA] Dulse started as humble abalone feed, sold for $4 an ounce as a cooking ingredient and mostly limited to the realms of fish and hippy food. But the seaweed held a secret: Treated the right way, it almost tastes like bacon. In the weeks and months after Oregon State University scientists began talking about this “bacon-tasting seaweed,” it seemed the edible algae could soon take its place on vegan breakfast tables world-wide.
Instead, New Seasons Market is gambling that the protein-packed leaves can amount to more than just a bacon-substitute for vegans.
Dulse might even be the next kale.
“Kale was this kind of obscure veggie that everyone grew but nobody used,” said New Seasons’ Chris Tjersland, who develops products for the grocery chain’s in-store brand. “We kind of look at this to be that type of product again.”
New Seasons is premiering the country’s first commercial dulse food product Wednesday, a salad dressing that draws heavily on Asian flavors. It took more than a year, 1,000 Oregon State University marketing students and a houseboat in Denmark to move the dressing onto store shelves. With the Portland-based grocery’s backing, the creators are hoping to move the red seaweed from the realm of “natural food” enthusiasts to a staple food.
Dulse is a red algae that grows along the Pacific and Atlantic coasts, and is packed with minerals, vitamins and antioxidants, earning it the “superfood” moniker. In dry weight it packs 16 percent protein.
And it was growing at the Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Sciences Center in Newport to feed sea snails when Chuck Toombs, a marketing professor at OSU, noticed it in a bubbling tank.
Chris Langdon, a professor in OSU’s fisheries and wildlife department, bred the seaweed into a fast-growing strain about 15 years ago and patented it.
“I didn’t think you could patent a seaweed,” Toombs said.
On the drive home, Toombs mulled over the facts he’d learned about dulse — under the right conditions, it can quintuple in size every 14 days and can sell for $4 an ounce at specialty markets. He only found out later it tasted like bacon when it’s cooked.
Toombs was looking for a business project for his marketing students, one that would foster their entrepreneurial spirit and possibly have some success. Dulse was it.
They made their global announcement that dulse was the food of the future in July. Behind the scenes, Toombs had enlisted a food product incubator to figure out how to get the hype to the table.
Nearly 5,000 miles away, Jason Ball was munching a dulse ice cream sandwich on a houseboat in Copenhagen, Denmark, surfing the internet for a new job. He had spent months on the houseboat, which doubled as the Nordic Food Lab, an experimental food lab where he helped a colleague make wild ice creams, such as the one he was eating when he found the Oregon Food Innovation Center’s job listing.
They were advertising their work with dulse. Ball reached out. He got the job.
He created 30 recipes using dulse — a beer with dehydrated seaweed in place of aroma hops (“It was surprisingly good!”), a malted milk ice cream with candied and smoked dulse, sourdough bread with dried dulse instead of salt, instant ramen packets, a butter that used dulse to culture the cream (“That was a little less successful, I’ll say.”).
Then, they invited New Seasons’ Tjersland to lunch. After tasting and talking, Tjersland pushed them in the direction of the tamari-heavy salad dressing, thinking it would showcase the savory and salty aspects of the dulse while being a little less intimidating for the average consumer than a funky dulse butter.
It also uses tamari, rather than soy sauce, so it’s gluten-free. The base is olive oil to avoid the genetically-engineered backlash against canola oil.
To make a new food palatable to novice grocery shoppers, especially the less adventurous variety, it needs to be accessible. After a while, when people are used to dulse salad dressing or dulse rice crackers — another Ball recipe under construction at the Food Innovation Center — they might mix some fresh dulse in with their arugula instead of kale.
Fresh, dulse has some chew like a thick leafy green and tastes more like saltwater than fish. Ball calls it “oceanic,” rather than “seaweedy.” The dressing is salty and tangy with tiny bits of the red algae swimming around in it, but doesn’t taste at all like a wharf.
The Food Innovation Center’s taste-testing studies approved the dulse dressing — a rigorous process for any new product, but especially one that introduces a seaweed to the masses.
“I can make things and taste them and think it’s delicious, but that’s not going to do me any good,” Ball said. In fact, he eats the algae like chips while experimenting. He needed the sign-off of a variety of eaters.
One year and 75 days later from the day Toombs made dulse his marketing class’s project, the dressing is ready for store shelves. And it doesn’t even taste like bacon.
View original article at: Portland food masterminds bottle bacon-tasting seaweed; could it be the next kale?