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No, This Isn't Bacon That You're Eating...but You'll Think It Is

Convincing you to eat seaweed--and actually liking it--may be difficult. But, let's say I told you there is a new kind of seaweed that tastes like...wait for it...BACON.

Analysts predict that sales of seaweed foods will outpace kale, which, of course, has been enjoying a huge spike in popularity over the past several years. But convincing you to buy seaweed may be difficult. What if I told you that it tastes like bacon, wouldn’t that work? I mean, who doesn’t love bacon? In the words of comedian Jim Gaffigan: “Bacon is the most beautiful thing on Earth. Bacon is the best. Even the frying of bacon sounds like applause, ‘Yay! Bacon!’ You wanna know how good bacon is? To improve other foods, they wrap them in bacon.”

However, what if there was a seaweed that really DID taste like bacon? Good news: It DOES exist! Researchers at Oregon State University (OSU) recently got a patent on a new strain of algae, specifically a red, ocean algae called dulse that is described as tasting like bacon when it is cooked.

The special strain of seaweed looks like a semi-transparent red lettuce. The researchers actually stumbled upon the bacon imposter when they were attempting to develop a nutritious food substance for abalone, a highly-revered food in much of Asia. One of the head researchers, Chris Langdon, fried up the dulse seaweed and said it has a “strong bacon flavor.” Langdon’s colleague, Chuck Toombs of OSU’s College of Business, thought his business students could take it on as a project.

Toombs started working with a product development team at the OSU Food Innovation Center to create different foods with the seaweed as the primary ingredient. Then, the Oregon Department of Agriculture awarded the team of researchers a grant that would empower them to explore the dulse as a “specialty crop.” This permitted the researchers to include research chef Jason Ball in the project.

What are other benefits, aside from the fact that is tastes like bacon? It grows quite rapidly and has been purported to be twice as nutritious as the ever-popular kale. In dry weight, it houses up to 16% protein and is chock-full of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. It can also be used fresh or in dried form, making it very versatile in the kitchen.

Even though people in northern regions of Europe have been eating a similar type of seaweed for hundreds of years, red dulse algae are not currently being grown and sold by any companies here in the United States, so you’ll have to wait a while to get your hands on it. Some health food stores do sell dulse, but it is not the same kind as the variety that the researchers as OSU patented.

The Future of Bacon Seaweed

According to researchers, there is huge potential for this bacon-tasting seaweed, particularly in the vegetarian and vegan markets. It could be used raw, cooked, or as an ingredient in salad dressings, snack crackers, or other shelf-stable foods. The type of red seaweed currently sold in stores isn't the same variety as the bacon-tasting kind, but this could be available soon. Analysis still needs to be done to evaluate if commercial production of the product would work economically. Keep an eye out for this in the future.

Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered, Licensed Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children.

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