Maritime Affairs and Fisheries
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Seaweed: an exotic ingredient moves closer to home

Seaweed: an exotic ingredient moves closer to home

What do dulse, laver, and Irish moss have in common? Apart from growing in the sea and being densely packed with nutrients, they are soon coming to a dinner plate near you! Many Europeans have already enjoyed edible seaweed, with the popularisation of sushi in the Western world, but its many potential culinary uses beyond wrapping ‘makis’ remain underappreciated. A small group of producers from two Danish FLAGs (Fisheries Local Action Groups) covering the island of Bornholm and the smaller islands are changing that.

Stimulating local economy, preserving local heritage

In Denmark, there are 27 islands with less than 1,000 residents. Many of them, as well as Bornholm, are renowned for their food production. The producers involved in the seaweed cultivation initiative are a good representation – they include mussel growers, fish farmers, gardeners, and producers of wine, cider, ice cream, plant extracts, and jams and preserves.

© Janmadsen
The quiet island of Bornholm, along with 27 other small Danish islands, has added the cultivation of seaweed to their rich maritime heritage as part of an innovative and commercially profitable project.​

 

However, a lack of new and competitive products – together with depopulation – presents challenges for these islands. The edible seaweed production project is one potential solution, helping to broaden the range of products offered locally, and thereby contributing to maintaining vibrant communities.

Furthermore, the project puts to use existing infrastructures like old fishing boats and unused buildings in small fishing ports. This serves a dual purpose – it cuts down project expenses while preserving the cultural heritage of the islands, making them more attractive to tourists.

Keeping up with the times: innovation in seafood

The Danish initiative for edible seaweed production sprang from a series of brainstorming sessions in 2009 held among small-scale food producers and experts, and it embodies the true spirit of entrepreneurialism. There was no prior tradition of cultivating or harvesting seaweed in Denmark, but a small group of 16 food producers recognised an opportunity and seized it. They gathered extensive information on seaweed species and their different uses, and started offering workshops on all the islands where communities showed interest in this innovative and profitable sector. As people got inspired, various new businesses started to appear – and they still are.

Since the project was launched, a whole variety of products have been developed across the different islands, ranging from seaweed schnapps to seaweed flour blend for baking, seaweed mustard, seaweed salad, seaweed pesto and, yes, seaweed beer. The islanders’ creativity has also coincided with the emergence of the New Nordic Cuisine, a movement among chefs to promote underused local ingredients to prepare traditional foods in new ways. Together with Europe’s growing appetite for sushi, this has helped create the ideal market conditions for seaweed. The specialty products are now being sold in Denmark and increasingly around Europe.

In the initial stages, the project received generous support from the EU’s Axis 4 fund, which provides funding for fisheries initiatives based on local innovation and cooperation, as well as national and private financing. After succeeding to exploit this early vote of confidence in the form of financial backing, the team behind the project has managed to limit the need for any new investment. In fact, the workshops are expressly designed to empower locals with the knowledge they need to start their own projects. In this way, the initiative developed a life of its own.

The future of Danish seaweed

The producers behind this initiative are already thinking ahead to the next innovation with seaweed. They’re looking into a new project to harness the great potential of using seaweed in animal feed, as well as several collaborations for projects with other EU countries. And the culinary demand for seaweed continues to grow – a cookery book exclusively on seaweed was recently published in Norway (2016).

One thing is sure. The producers’ innovative thinking – plus the interest and collaboration of top local chefs active in the New Nordic Cuisine – ensures plenty of interesting developments to look forward to.

Past Issues
June  2017 - Issue 75
March  2017 - Issue 74
November 2016 - Issue 73
August 2016 - Issue 72