Cry for kelp delivers Tasmania a new sauce of growth

[Australia] In the cold, clear waters around Bruny Island, the combination of scientific knowledge and clever marketing is transforming an ­invasive pest into Tasmania’s ­latest gourmet product.

Japanese seaweed species ­arrived in Tasmanian waters in the ballasts of Japanese woodchip ships, so it seems fitting that ­Japanese cuisine is now providing a solution to their control.

An innovative local company formed by a marine biologist and a seafood retailer is harvesting the invasive species for sale to ­­up-market restaurants and health food shops.

Chefs and consumers alike cannot get enough of their two products — wakame (Undaria pinnatifida) and red lettuce (Grateloupia turuturu) — used in everything from soups to salads and pasta sauce.

Marine biologist Craig Sanderson told The Australian that the enterprise he founded two years ago with the seafood processor, retailer and marketer James Ashmore was in part an attempt to find a commercial solution to an environmental problem.

“You can spend decades ­researching these things, but at some stage you have to walk the talk,” Dr Sanderson said.

“The thing that probably precipitated it was Fukushima (the tsunami and subsequent nuclear disaster in Japan) and the fact that waters in Asia are generally not as clean as they should be — so there is now demand for seaweeds sourced from outside Asia.

“We are selling as much as we can make at the moment into most of the capital cities along the eastern seaboard — Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney, Cairns, Brisbane. But we’re not pushing — ­people approach us.”

Mr Ashmore said this ­season — from July to ­November — their company Kai Ho (“Ocean’s Treasure” in Japanese) planned to increase its harvest from 5-10 wet tonnes to 15 tonnes.

“Demand is growing and we are improving our processes all the time,” he said.

The innovative company, part of a boom in the Tasmanian food and beverage sector helping to drive the state’s economic growth, has also run encouraging trials aimed at developing a ­market for edible native seaweeds.

Unlike the introduced species, these would be cultured and grown either in tanks or offshore in plantations to avoid depleting natural stocks.

Trials with a native species, known as “mermaid’s necklace”, have been promising.

“It looks like a string of small pearls … has a crunch when you bite into it and tastes like cucumbers,” Dr Sanderson said.

“We’re getting up to $1000 a kilo.”

Chinese investors are also ­investigating the prospects of seaweed farming in Tasmania and Dr Sanderson believes its potential is enormous, nationally.

“There are 2000 species of seaweed along the southern coast of Australia, very few of which we use for edible purposes at the ­moment, so there’s some scope, especially when you consider cultivation is a $1 billion industry in Southeast Asia,” Dr Sanderson said.

The Australian palate was warming to seaweed, he said, while the health benefits of its mineral, iodine and amino acid content were another selling point, and there was significant potential for export, he said.


Photo: James Ashmore of Ashmore Foods Tasmania harvests Undaria pinnatifida (also known as Wakame) seaweed. ‘Demand is growing.’

View original article at: Cry for kelp delivers Tasmania a new sauce of growth

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