Food of the fu­ture

Element - - GARDENING -

There are those who be­lieve we’ll have to re­sort to eat­ing al­gae to sur­vive. With the world’s pop­u­la­tion grow­ing, it’s pre­dicted we’ll soon out­strip tra­di­tional nu­tri­tional re­sources, although given the cur­rent milk-pow­der glut we may be okay.

A diet rich in al­gae won’t be a bad thing; es­pe­cially now that sci­en­tists at Ore­gon State Univer­sity have dis­cov­ered an al­gae that, when fried, tastes like ba­con. Who doesn’t like ba­con? Ve­g­ans, and the many faiths that for­bid the eat­ing of swine, can re­joice.

Of course the sci­en­tists don’t re­fer to it as al­gae, but by the far more palat­able term “sea­weed”. Va­ri­eties of this par­tic­u­lar sea­weed have long been a source of nutri­tion from Ire­land to Ice­land and down along the coast of the North Eastern USA.

Known as Dulse, it looks like translu­cent red let­tuce. It has twice the nu­tri­tional value of kale, a veg­etable that no mat­ter what one does to it will never taste like ba­con, un­less it’s feed to a pig to fat­ten it up.

Bet­ter yet, Dulse grows quickly and is re­mark­ably ver­sa­tile. It can be pan-fried to make chips, baked un­der cheese, eaten with but­ter, or in any­thing from chow­ders to sand­wiches. One chap from the Nordic food lab even used it to make beer. Try do­ing that with any one of your land-grown greens.

Dulse also goes nicely with the other seafood that is be­ing mooted as a life­saver, krill. Grow­ing to around 6cm in length, there are so many of these mini-crus­taceans swimming about in swarms of bil­lions, that they rep­re­sent one of the largest biomasses of any in­di­vid­ual species.

Those who wish to harvest them pro­claim that there is no short­age of krill – but that’s what they said about the pas­sen­ger pi­geon, once the most abun­dant bird in the world. Re­ports from the 1800s de­scribed flocks tak­ing days to pass. They were also very tasty, and they’re now ex­tinct.

Krill oil is the pur­ported to be the new won­der-food for the brain. Rich in omega 3, the oil is ex­tracted from the krill and put into health sup­ple­ment­ing cap­sules. Sadly the health of the krill that con­trib­ute the oil is not en­hanced.

Does it re­ally bet­ter the brain? Well, the largest con­sumer (lit­er­ally) of krill is the blue whale. It’s the big­gest an­i­mal ever to have lived. The whale’s tongue is the weight of an ele­phant, it has the largest penis in the world, and the loud­est voice, yet de­spite the four ton a day of krill it eats, its brain weighs a mere seven kilo­grams. If that seems a lot of brain, re­mem­ber that an adult blue whale weighs 180,000kg.

In any case, we don’t have to worry about the blue whale com­pet­ing with our krill harvest, be­cause we’ve done away with most of them for their oil too.

If it’s not al­gae or krill on the menus of the fu­ture it may very well be jel­ly­fish. Although re­ported to be like eat­ing taste­less, dried rub­ber bands, we have an over­abun­dance of them, thanks to warm­ing seas.

In­creas­ingly tepid wa­ters have been blamed for the huge rise in jel­ly­fish num­bers, which has seen power plant wa­ter in­takes blocked, fish­ing in­dus­tries wiped out, and swim­mers stung.

One bright side of their blos­som­ing num­bers is see­ing peo­ple try to con­vince their friends that the only way to stop the pain of the sting is by uri­nat­ing on them. It doesn’t. But it’s great fun to try.

Per­haps the only way to bring na­ture into bal­ance is to find a way to make jel­ly­fish de­li­cious. It would make a nice ac­com­pa­ni­ment to the al­gae.

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