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.