Weed science: could seaweed really replace pasta?
Beach goers in the UK won’t be desperate to put seaweed on their dinner plates. Seaweed in murky British waters is invariably the thing that brushes past your leg in the shallows, making you worry that something unsavoury might have been discarded up the current somewhere. But one food fan in Holland has put seaweed to less-gross use. He’s harvested a load and turned it into a food that he believes could act as a sustainable substitute for pasta.
Willem Sodderland first discovered the joys of seaweed on a trip to Bambuddha in Ibiza. “We were having dinner in a restaurant and I order the seaweed salad,” he says. Initially stumped by what appeared to be a lack of seaweed on his plate, his wife pointed to the tagliatelle. “I was eating Himanthalia, a culinary seaweed that is nicknamed sea spaghetti.”
This got him thinking about sustainability. The product he’s ended up with certainly has some top environmental creds. It’s harvested from two sites, one in Ireland and one in France. The species Seamore is using (himantalia and dulce) require very little to thrive, only the water they grow in and little sunlight. Willem says that no fertilisers or chemicals are used on these species and only 15% is harvested at a time, allowing all seaweed to grow back.
Willem says it’s a good source of calcium, vitamin B12, iron, zinc and iodine, and is totally organic and gluten free.
Right. So how does it taste?
We tried the Seamore tagliatelle. There are a number of ways to prepare it outlined on the packet – we opted to soak in hot water for 25-30 minutes because the pack said it would remove a little more of the seaside whiff that way.
We served it as part of a fish pasta dish loosely based on this Rick Stein recipe (we say loosely based because there’s no way we’re making our own fish stock, we used sea bass not john dory, and we forgot the lemon juice. Oh and we just used tomato puree with a bit of water instead of Rick’s tomato sauce. Still it is a cracking meal).
Back to the seaweed/pasta. We wouldn’t say it tasted like pasta. We only cooked a little bit so we could try cooking it in a different way. To us it tasted kind of like seaweed. It’s quite crunchy, despite a long soak, and it feels pretty plant-like in your mouth.
That’s not necessarily to say that it was bad. We can see it working as a replacement for noodles in a zesty noodle salad dish, or maybe mixed into a thicker ragu than the fishy dish we made.
Mrs Burnt wasn’t keen, suggesting it had “the consistency of electrical tape.”
However, we’re fans of the spirit behind this foodie experiment. Population growth is a thing, as is third world food shortage, so we’re fascinated by attempts to think differently about food supply.
As Willem says, people are looking for new ways to eat. “They want a healthier product, would love to have products that are organic, maybe more sustainable, but they don’t really want to do much to get it.”
So the use of the term ‘pasta’ might be necessary to make people think of it as a conventional food, but it could also be a misstep. It tastes a bit funny and isn’t really anything like pasta (the company is also marketing a seaweed-based bacon substitute called I Sea Bacon, which we haven’t tried). For us, it’s the fact that it’s a new, sustainable food that’s interesting.