“SEAWEED and sauce on your chips?” That’s the question fish bar workers across the Capital could soon be asking if the boss of Mara Seaweed gets her way.
Food entrepreneur Fiona Houston is behind a range of seaweed condiments that have built up a gourmet fanbase.
But now – with the aid of a £25,000 grant – she’s hoping to carry out research that could bring about a sea change in eating habits across Scotland.
Of the salty plan, she said: “It’s part of the daily diet in Japan, so why not here?”
Seaweed isn’t new to our tables. It has been used by Scots for thousands of years, with evidence it was harvested from our shores as early as 4000BC. However, in recent times it has become less popular as a food source, a trend which businesses such as Mara Seaweed and Stornoway’s Hebridean Seaweed Company are now starting to reverse.
It’s on the back of such a trend that Mara Seaweed has been awarded the cash grant, paid by Interface Food and Drink Innovation, which funds collaborative projects between academics and the food and drink industry.
Fiona, of Comely Bank, and scientists from the University of the Highlands and Islands will now look at innovative ways of bringing seaweed to a wider number of people.
She said: “I first began thinking about seaweed as a food source when I had an American-Chinese friend over visiting. We were down at the Fife coast and they pointed to all the seaweed, asking why we didn’t eat it. I thought, well, why indeed?”
Her business, now supplying Michelin-starred chefs such as Andrew Fairlie and Martin Wishart, has a selection of five different seaweed seasonings, which can be used as a healthier, and more flavoursome, alternative to salt.
Fiona said: “There are vitamins and minerals in seaweed you simply cannot get from other foods. It makes sense from an environmental aspect too – here is a healthy resource we can farm extensively without using up any land.”
And you don’t just need to take Fiona’s word for it.
Our tester Abigail Lewis said: “I was really surprised. Some of the lighter ones would be good on fish and white meat, and there were heavier ones for red meat.
“They all definitely taste salty but a light salt – it doesn’t taste processed.”
Crawling on to the dinner table?
Seaweed isn’t the only unusual item which could be making its way on to dinner plates in future – though at least it can’t get there under its own steam.
While in our culture insects are usually only eaten by celebrities under the watchful eye of Ant and Dec, a recent report by the UN said large-scale insect consumption by the general population could become the norm. As populations grow, they are a cheap, nutritious, and easily sustainable source of protein, fat and minerals.
Insects already supplement the diets of more than two billion people worldwide, though the reports note “consumer disgust” remains a large problem in the West.