As the bumper sticker says, “bacon makes everything better,” at least from a flavor perspective. But this most delicious of pork products is chock-full of sodium, saturated fat and cholesterol. Fortunately, some enterprising researchers are in the process of studying, cultivating and marketing naturally bacon-flavored ... seaweed.
Dulse is the technical name for this particular strain of seaweed, which transforms into a naturally bacon-flavored delicacy when fried. Researchers at the Oregon State University (OSU) Hatfield Marine Science Center, located in Newport, Oregon, are currently devising ways to make dulse easier and more cost-effective to cultivate stateside, thus bringing the product to the masses.
Bacon-y goodness isn't the only thing dulse has going for it. This seaweed boasts a whopping 14-18 percent protein content, according to Chris Langdon, the OSU professor of fisheries who's long heralded the plant's potential. “It also has a lot of minerals in it that are very good for you,” he explains, listing potassium and iodine as the top performers. Dulse also contains heart-healthy polyunsaturated fatty acids and polyphenols, micronutrients that help prevent heart disease and cancer.
The origins of the dulse movement at OSU are literally quite fishy. The research group began growing the seaweed in tanks in the mid-1990s as a high-quality food for abalone, a type of mollusk that is particularly popular in Asia. This co-culture method wound up turning out excellent abalone alongside a fast-growing type of dulse. Known as the C3 strain, it was patented by the researchers with hopes that it might one day be grown on a larger scale using a recirculation system that they're currently fine-tuning.
“The idea is that we might be able to grow dulse in places that are a long way from the ocean,” Langdon explains. “The challenge is maintaining water temperature.” Sunlight threatens that success, since dulse grows better in cooler waters, but Langdon and his team plan to work with engineers to hone a sound method, so that production can be brought inland.
Langdon discovered the bacon powers of dulse when a colleague from the OSU business school, Chuck Toombs, stopped by looking for projects for his students. A research chef was brought in to explore the uses of dulse as human food, and he discovered that the seaweed tasted like bacon when it was fried.
Although it lacks the texture of regular bacon, dulse's inherent flavor packs potential for any number of consumer products, including salad dressings, rice crackers and veggie burgers, which could benefit from a boost of meaty flavor without the added calories and fat.