Researchers have patented a new strain of seaweed that they say tastes like bacon and might help feed a growing, hungry world.
The red seaweed is called dulse, and it's been eaten by people for millennia. The team at Oregon State University has bred a strain that they can farm reliably and they say it's not only heavy on the protein -- 16 percent by weight -- but packed with minerals and vitamins such as vitamin A and C.
"When you fry it, which I have done, it tastes like bacon, not seaweed. And it's a pretty strong bacon flavor," said OSU fisheries professor Chris Langdon.
Dulse is valued for a flavor called "umami", a Japanese word that describes the so-called fifth flavor found in mushrooms, meat, cheese and, yes, bacon.
Langdon's team was originally growing the dulse to feed abalone, a sea snail prized for its meat and its colorful mother-of-pearl shell, "The original goal was to create a super-food for abalone, because high-quality abalone is treasured, especially in Asia," Langdon said in a statement.
"We were able to grow dulse-fed abalone at rates that exceeded those previously reported in the literature."
Now the team's working to make dulse products. It's an ancient snack in Ireland, where people living along the island's northern shore have traditionally gathered it. Health food stores around the world sell it, too.
"In Europe, they add the powder to smoothies, or add flakes onto food," Langdon said in a statement. "There hasn't been a lot of interest in using it in a fresh form. But this stuff is pretty amazing."
He teamed up with OSU business professor Chuck Toombs. "We now have about five products that we think will be very good commercial products," Toombs said. "This stuff grows, under the right conditions, five times as fast as anything else," he added.
"I think the public is ready to have something that tastes good and is good for you."