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Not everyone has got used to the idea of having seaweed as a pantry item and using it regularly as a seasoning, but all over the world, interest is growing. Thanks to its high vitamin, mineral and iodine content, sugar kelp has long been considered a “superfood”:
- Quite simply, this kelp is delicious. In the market and under development, we have this raw material in focus, including spice mixtures and dried sheets, says Harald Sveier.
He is the Managing Director of Ocean Forest, a collaboration between Lerøy and the environmental NGO Bellona. Ocean Forest is cultivating tens of tonnes of kelp in what resembles an underwater rainforest. The first harvest in 2014 came to 17 tonnes. This year (2021), 177 tonnes have been harvested. The company works very purposefully to industrialize the process so that you can handle a larger amount of kelp per working hour.
Sveier and his yeam have a fount of knowledge on this macroalga, which for most people is just something you see from the edge of the quay or step on when you’re walking in shallow waters along the Norwegian coast. Seaweed has any number of uses: as a food; as animal feed; and to produce the biogas of the future.
Now seaweed is closer to Norwegian dinner plates than ever before. The maki rolls at your local sushi restaurant are rolled in sheets of seaweed called nori and are often served with a seagrass topping. Just a few years ago, to most people that would have seemed far more exotic than it does today. The seaweed cultivated at Austevoll in western Norway is different, but it is related and similar to the one used in Japanese cuisine.
Seaweed can be dried, rather like crisps, as well as roasted, grilled and boiled. It can also be used in oils, stocks or marinades, and its taste goes particularly well with fish.
The fifth taste – umami – was actually discovered thanks to seaweed. In 1907 the researcher Kikunae Ikeda discovered glutamine in seaweed stock and named it umami, which is Japanese for “delicious”.
Macroalgae also have the potential to play a bigger role in an industry that has historically been very important to the Norwegian economy.
Sugar kelp’s high carbohydrate content of around 50 percent makes it a good raw material for biogas, biodiesel and bioenergy.
- This is a highly sustainable energy source that is available to us if we need it. As such, there is no limit to the market for seaweed, says Sveier.
What started out as a collaborative project with Bellona has developed into an independent company incorporated under the name Ocean Forest. It cultivates kelp and mussels that absorb the phosphorus, nitrogen and CO2 produced by the fish being farmed in fish cages.
- These resources were being wasted. In consultation with Bellona, we discovered how we could capture them, incorporate them into the production cycle and use them constructively. Kelp binds large quantities of CO2, and we can see that what we’re doing here works, says the Managing Director.
Harald Sveier is employed by the seafood production company Lerøy, where his responsibilities include research and innovation. Ocean Forest was presented as a tangible way of promoting sustainable production, both for the industry and the economy. Sveier got the responsibility for developing the project and later the company, and he calls himself a marine gardener.
The potential for seaweed to become a popular dish is not the only motivation for setting up and developing the project, which has been tasked with three things by its board.
The first one is something that Sveier has already mentioned: capturing the phosphorus, nitrogen and CO2 released by the fish at fish farms. This is done by cultivating sugar kelp and mussels on ropes in the same areas as we produce salmon. These species live off phosphorus and nitrogen, and kelp also binds large quantities of CO2.
The second one is to produce raw ingredients that are edible for humans and animals. There are many different ways to eat both kelp and mussels.
The soft body inside the shell can replace fish meal in fish feed, making it part of a natural cycle. These organisms are far down the food chain: kelp is right at the bottom and mussels are just above it. They only need water and sunlight to survive – they have no need for food, fresh water or chemicals.
The project’s third task was to start farming new species, in a way that was industrially and financially sustainable. This means that in the future the company should be able to make a profit on producing mussels and kelp for use in animal feed.
The overall aim is to create a circular economy, where waste from one industry becomes the inputs for another one.
A more ambitious long-term goal is to generate negative carbon emissions. In other words the project’s carbon emissions, which mainly come from salmon production, boats and fish feed, should be zero or negative.
- We are striving to make our business as sustainable as possible, while also remaining profitable. Ocean Forest is part of a bigger goal of minimising the climate footprint of aquaculture, says Harald Sveier, before adding:
- Achieving negative carbon emissions is a challenging goal, but by no means an impossible one.