Researchers at the University of Cadiz (UCA), in collaboration with the Technological Aquaculture Centre (CTAQUA), recently brought together in El Puerto de Santa María more than 75 experts in research, production and gastronomy using seaweed.
The EALGA project, which aims to optimise the harvesting and cultivation of seaweed in the Bay of Cadiz, is based on studying the fundamental properties which determine the quality of the seaweed for use in industrial food production.
Seaweed is a little-known natural marine resource and it is barely used at all at present, especially for human nutrition. Only a small section of the Spanish population uses this product - fresh, dried or tinned - for culinary purposes. "Because it has important nutritional value, seaweed contributes to a healthy diet and that is why it would be very interesting for it to become something people eat every day," says Víctor Palacios, a researcher in the Food Technology department at Cadiz university.
The healthy properties of the seaweed and the potential of the Bay of Cadiz as a source, led to the EALGA project being set up in this area. "We want to encourage the use of seaweed not only for consumption but also as a way of boosting the economy of the area," says Victor.
As part of the project, the researchers have developed products which are made with the different types of seaweed collected from the marshes in the Bay of Cadiz.
To make the products attractive to consumers and easily affordable, they have added the seaweed as a main ingredient, and those attending the recent conference in El Puerto were given the chance to sample cherry tomatoes dressed with sherry vinegar and seaweed, mousse made with three different types of seaweed, gnocchi with seaweed pesto and mini soya burgers with seaweed.
The products were chosen after considering the nutritional and technological characteristics of the seaweed, but their sensory potential has also been taken into account so fresh seaweed has been used as well as dried and powdered versions. "As the tasting session showed, seaweed can be a main ingredient in dressings and condiments, liquid, semi-liquid emulsions and pastas, or in meat dishes. Some seaweed which grow on the marshes are high in proteins, such as the one known as 'sea lettuce', says Victor Palacios.
All these products have been patented or are in the process of being so and one of them, the seaweed mousse, has already been a runner-up at the CEI.MAR's AtrÉBT awards and came third in the 'Ecotrophelia' competition organised by the FIAB. According to the experts from the EALGA project, these products are totally viable and market surveys have shown that they are likely to be well received.