Eating right can be hard. When you're really jonesing for something naughty, there's just no contest between a giant double cheeseburger with special sauce versus kale.
Imagine how much easier eating healthy would be if food had a high nutritional value and the great taste of delicious bacon. Some researchers at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Oregon claim that they've done just that.
Researchers from OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center came up with a recipe for a natural strain of an edible algae called dulse. It's high in minerals, vitamins and antioxidants and also has a strong bacon flavor, according to a statement from OSU.
Chris Langdon, a professor of fisheries at OSU, first started working with dulse in a previous research project in which he found a way to grow the red seaweed at a rate of 20 to 30 pounds per week to feed sea snails called abalone. Since he had more seaweed than his snails could possibly finish, he started collaborating with research chefs from OSU's Food Innovation Center in Portland, Oregon on new recipes using the translucent, red plant as the main ingredient. Think of it as Iron Chef that counts for academic credit.
During their search for new recipes, they discovered that pan-frying Langdon's homemade strain of dulse gave it a distinctly bacon-y flavor. Jason Ball, a research chef with OSU's Food Innovation Center, described the dulse's pan-fried flavor in a story for the OSU publication Oregon's Agricultural Progress as "light and crispy with a savory saltiness."
These researchers may have also stumbled upon a very lucrative niche market in the produce industry. There are no companies in the US that grow and sell fresh dulse for human consumption, except for health food stores and nutritional companies that offer a different strain of harvested seaweed that's usually dried. Right now, Langdon and his team are testing their seaweed strain to see if there is potential for turning it into a commercial venture, according to the statement.
Langdon's team also created other foods that sound like tasty treats, even though the main ingredient is algae. So far, they've developed dulse infused foods such as salad dressing, sesame seed chips and peanut brittle. Ball said he's also trying to make dulse veggie burgers, dulse trail mix and even dulse beer, according to the OAU story.
Researchers from other schools and companies have also been toying with ways to turn algae and fungi into sources for other products like fuel. A startup company called Bio Architecture Lab published a paper in 2012 in the magazine Science announcing that they discovered a way to turn seaweed into a direct source for making biofuel. Back in May, a team of researchers from Washington State University also announced they developed a way to turn black fungus into the hydrocarbons that make jet fuel.
The potential for Langdon's seaweed sounds just as limitless. If they can successfully market their bacon-flavored seaweed, we could one day see things like dulse Hot Pockets at the store or a dulse-stuffed-crust pizza on the menu at Pizza Hut.