Seaweed and Co: the future’s unlikely superfood

Seaweed and Co: the future’s unlikely superfood

by Ollie Lloyd 27 September 2018

Oliver Lloyd talks to Craig Rose of Seaweed and Co to find out how seaweed holds the answers to questions about health, nutrition and taste.

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Ollie is the founder of Great British Chefs.

Ollie is the founder of Great British Chefs. He has been experimenting in the kitchen since he was five years old. Never known for shying away from a challenge, he has taken on some of the most obscure cuts of meat and ingredients that he can lay his hands on. As a marketeer, he's worked in the US, South and Southeast Asia, always taking the scenic route that might involve food trucks, hawkers and elusive soup dumplings.

Move over, kale – there’s a new leaf in town and, unlike you, it doesn’t need a host of herbs or spices to make it palatable. It packs its own punch: a pure, slightly salty and deeply umami flavour that could only come from one of the life’s few remaining mysteries: the sea. In short, kale, you’ve been out-greened by seaweed – and not the ‘seaweed’ (cabbage, really) you’ll find on Chinese takeaway menus either. This is the real deal, sustainably grown and harvested around the Scottish Outer Hebrides by a man who calls himself Dr Seaweed.

His name is Craig Rose – and he actually is a doctor, having done a PhD in marine biology before branching out into seaweed research. He’s spent decades immersed in the potential of seaweed for sustainable food production, and for human health. His company Seaweed and Co came about when he met some chaps cultivating seaweed in the Isle of Lewis – ‘predominantly for agriculture, animal feed and horticulture – for which it is really good,’ he says, but his interest lay in its culinary and nutritional qualities. ‘It’s rich in a huge range of minerals, trace elements, vitamin groups, amino acids and essential fatty acids.’ Research is ongoing – Craig is no quack, and wants every health claim to be peer reviewed, evidence-based and validated – but benefits the EU have approved include improvements to metabolism, thyroid health and cognitive function. ‘It’s a great vegan source of iodine – something British women’s diets in particular are deficient in,’ he explains.

Hear more about Seaweed and Co

Listen to what Craig Rose had to say about the benefits of seaweed on the FoodTalk podcast by clicking here.

What’s more, it’s delicious. ‘Few people realise it, but glutamate – the natural, friendly forefather to MSG – occurs naturally in seaweed, which is why Asian cuisines use it a lot in broths and stews.’ It turbo boosts flavour, bringing its distinctive umami to any party, which is why Seaweed and Co decided to launch its own range of products highlighting the merits of seaweed direct to consumers earlier this year. ‘We’d been supplying seaweed B2B across a whole range of products: mayonnaise, crackers, soups – all sorts; but we wanted to engage the public and make it accessible.’ Seaweed’s not weird, it’s wonderful, he continues – and indeed, it is this mantra that inspired the label which you’ll find on their various bottled oils and capsules. ‘We came up with the brand name Weed and Wonderful,’ he smiles. ‘We have a pure seaweed-infused oil, a smoked seaweed-infused oil, and an intense one – almost like an essence. It’s about taking the culinary benefits of seaweed and putting it into a useable context.’ To us, these oils cry out to be drizzled like chilli or herb-infused oil as the finishing touches upon a finished dish.

‘The smoked seaweed oil brings a smoked flavour, as well as that seaweed sense,’ says Chris – a bit like liquid smoke, I guess, but far better for you. The seaweed is smoked over oak, as is the organic, sustainably sourced rapeseed oil – and the intense version has a new level of flavour: a truffle oil equivalent from the sea. ‘The pure oil is subtle, but it’s meant to be,’ says Craig. ‘These are introductory products, and while we have great plans the whole concept of Weed and Wonderful is to help people accept seaweed and understand that is is easy and lovely to incorporate in your diet.’ I imagine scrambling my eggs in the pure seaweed infused oil and serving them with smoked salmon – and the prospect really appeals.

Seaweed is not an obvious contender for next food trend. For a start, what do you do with it? You can see it alright – washed up on the beach, creeping around your ankles in the water – but the thought of plating it up is enough to baffle all but the most seasoned of foragers. Then there’s the issue of what seaweed to eat. ‘No seaweed is toxic, but you want to ensure it doesn’t come from polluted waters. The Hebridean Ascophyllum we harvest comes from a pristine and sustainable source.’ What Weed and Wonderful offers is like a starter kit, which fits in with modern British cooking. ‘Apparently 88% of people know that kale is good for them but don’t know what to do with it, and that held them back,’ he recalls – and it’s even more the case with seaweed. Sure, you’ll find it Asian supermarkets – but many won’t really know what to do with it. However, there’s a touch of the exotic – the futuristic, even, about seaweed in this country, particularly when it comes in capsules, as some of Chris’ range does. But there is also something primal about it also. After all, what solution to the growing prospect of food shortages and malnutrition could be more simple than plucking a nutrient-dense plant from the root of all life: the sea.

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