Need to Know
  1. This strain of seaweed tastes like bacon when fried
  2. Someday it may be widely available as a meat substitute
  3. Tasty red algae could be a step toward sustainability

Ever heard of dulse? Neither had I, until I got the tip to check out a new seaweed strain being cultivated by researchers at Oregon State University. At first I thought, no big deal — people eat seaweed in sushi and in various snackable forms all the time. However, the seaweed these researchers have been working with is special. When cooked, it apparently tastes like bacon.

Yep. Bacon seaweed. Get excited.

When Chris Langdon’s team at Oregon State set out to grow their special (and now patented) form of red algae, they were attempting to create a food source for abalone, not discover the Holy Pork-Imitation Grail. However, the scientist noticed that this highly nutritious, protein-heavy seaweed also could be put to use as a component of human diets — especially once he discovered that frying dulse made it taste like bacon.

When Langdon’s colleague, business school professor Chuck Toombs, saw the seaweed growing in Langdon’s lab, he was so inspired that he set his team at the Food Innovation Center to work creating recipes that featured dulse as a main ingredient — seaweed and eggs, anyone? Besides the bacon flavor, there was another component of dulse that got Toombs excited: Protein-rich dulse has twice the nutritional value of kale when it comes to certain vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, and he saw the potential for dulse to make a big mark on the health food industry. What if this seaweed could become the “next big thing,” eventually rising to the top of the health food market alongside insect-based food products and other up-and-coming edible offerings from unexpected resources?

Dulse isn’t the only algae vying for next-big-thing status. There’s also kelp from Maine, though nobody’s claiming it tastes like bacon — and it’s currently difficult to find and expensive. While it’s no stranger to Northern European markets, where this type of seaweed has been eaten for centuries, it’s not produced for human consumption by any US companies. But if dulse is as easy and quick to grow as Langdon claims it is, Americans could soon see this strange pork-flavored plant surge onto supermarket shelves as a sustainable substitute for everyone’s favorite breakfast meat.

Image Source: Flickr user Akuppa John Wigham