Bacon-flavored seaweed: More nutritious than kale?

Scientists have developed a new strain of dulse, a seaweed with twice the nutritional profile of kale and a 'pretty strong bacon flavor.'

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Sliced bacon is displayed for sale at a market in Washington, April 24, 2014.

The newest superfood is here, and it tastes better than you'd expect. 

In a bizarre marriage of the best of both food worlds, a team of scientists at Oregon State University have developed a new strain of dulse, an edible seaweed with twice the nutritional value of kale – and an arguably more palatable bacon-like flavor. 

The newly developed strain resembles translucent red lettuce and is chock full of minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and protein, researchers say. 

Dulse, which rhymes with pulse, has been consumed in powder and flake form for centuries in Northern Europe, where it’s added to smoothies or other foods by health-conscious people. But the new strain developed at OSU can be farmed and eaten fresh. 

“There hasn’t been a lot of interest in using it in a fresh form. But this stuff is pretty amazing,” said chief researcher Chris Langdon in a university statement. “When you fry it, which I have done, it tastes like bacon, not seaweed. And it’s a pretty strong bacon flavor.”

Scientists first set out to develop a new strain of the seaweed 15 years ago with the intent of creating a food for commercially grown abalone, a mollusk popular in Asian countries. But when a product development team at OSU’s Food Innovation Center began experimenting with dulse-based human recipes, such as rice crackers and salad dressing, Langdon and his colleagues realized the seaweed’s potential as a health food phenomenon. A grant from the Oregon Department of Agriculture and the addition of a culinary research chef to the team allowed the scientists to further explore the edibility of dulse. 

Natural forms of the seaweed grow along the Atlantic and Pacific coastlines, but there are currently no commercial operations that grow dulse for human consumption in the US. However, considering Americans’ affinity for all things bacon, that could soon change. 

“The dulse grows using a water recirculation system,” Dr. Langdon explained. “Theoretically, you could create an industry in eastern Oregon almost as easily as you could along the coast with a bit of supplementation. You just need a modest amount of seawater and some sunshine.”

The campaign to make dulse a household name is already underway. Several Portland-area chefs are currently experimenting with the sea “vegetable” in both its raw and cooked form, and MBA students at OSU are in the process of creating a marketing plan for a new line of dulse-based specialty foods. 

Perhaps the next food trend will be punctuated with cries of, "Mmm, dulse!"

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