The man who discovered umami

Did you know we owe seaweed for helping discover umami?

Kikunae Ikeda a Japanese chemist and professor at Tokyo Imperial University had been studying a broth made from seaweed and dried fish flakes called dashi. Through numerous chemical assays, Ikeda had been trying to isolate the molecules behind its distinctive taste. In a 1909 paper, Ikeda claimed the flavor in question came from the amino acid glutamate, a building block of proteins. He suggested that the savory sensation triggered by glutamate should be one of the basic tastes that give something flavor, on a par with sweet, sour, bitter, and salt. He called it “umami”, riffing on a Japanese word meaning “delicious”.

Ikeda’s paper was not well received, and it took over a hundred years for the term “umami” to be internationally recognized. Over the decades, scientists began to put together how umami works. Each new insight brought the claim put forth by Ikeda into better focus. The discovery that made umami stick was about 20 years ago, showing that there are specific receptors in taste buds that pick up on amino acids. Multiple research groups have now reported on these receptors, which are tuned to specifically stick onto glutamate.

Ikeda, found a seasoning manufacturer and started to produce his own line of umami seasoning. The product, a monosodium glutamate (MSG) powder called Aji-No-Moto, is still made today. (Although rumors have swirled periodically that eating too much MSG can give people headaches and other health problems, the US Food and Drug Administration has found no evidence for such claims. It just makes food taste more savory.)     

While other food items have umami flavors, it was seaweed that gave the term life.

why seaweed hasn't replaced kale yet

A very interesting article in WHYY marketplace called “Is kelp the new kale? It was supposed to be” hits at an interesting point. A few years ago seaweed was being called the next superfood, and bold claims like, “seaweed would become the new kale” were commonplace. But that hasn’t happened yet, why?

Anoushka Concepcion is an assistant extension educator with the Connecticut Sea Grant. She works with seafood producers and researchers and answers questions about the latest technology and trends. In an interview Anoushka said “The idea sort of took off before all the practical challenges can be addressed,” Concepcion said. “Farmers are finding it difficult now just to get rid of their seaweed. They can’t get rid of it.”

Bren Smith, co-founder of GreenWave, says the seaweed business is past the startup phase and now needs to build infrastructure and grow market demand by changing people’s tastes on a larger scale.

We all know it’s good for us, now we just need to start eating it.

Roast Chicken With Crunchy Seaweed and Potatoes

Just the other night a few of us were talking about making fried chicken with dulse, and potentially how good it could be. Lo and behold, today we found a recipe for roasted chicken with crunchy dulse!

This recipe calls for kelp and dulse and is an excellent twist on the traditional roasted chicken.

This recipe comes from MELISSA CLARK written in the cooking section of the New York Times

INGREDIENTS

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

  • 1 tablespoon red dulse flakes or powder

  • 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest plus 1 teaspoon lemon juice

  • 1 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt

  • 1 (3 1/2- to 4-pound) whole chicken, patted dry

  • 1 small bunch fresh herbs, such as rosemary, thyme or sage

  • 1 pound baby potatoes, halved, or quartered if large

  • 1 small red onion, halved and thinly sliced

  • 2 cups ready-cut (or slaw-cut) kelp seaweed (about 6 ounces), water lightly squeezed out (see Note)

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

  • Large pinch of red-pepper flakes

PREPARATION

  1. In a small bowl, stir together softened butter, dulse, lemon zest and juice, and 3/4 teaspoon salt. Rub all over chicken, including the cavity, underneath the skin, then on top of the skin. Stuff herb bunch into cavity and transfer chicken to a rimmed baking sheet. Let marinate at least 1 hour or up to overnight in the refrigerator.

  2. Heat oven to 425 degrees and place a rack in the middle. Remove chicken from refrigerator and let sit at room temperature while you prepare vegetables.

  3. In a large bowl, toss together potatoes, onion, kelp, oil, red-pepper flakes and remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Spread mixture out surrounding the chicken on the baking sheet.

  4. Roast, tossing vegetables every 20 minutes, until chicken is browned and a thermometer inserted into thickest portion of thigh reads 160 degrees, about 1 hour. Remove from oven, transfer chicken to a cutting board and tent loosely with foil for 10 minutes.

  5. Transfer roasted vegetables to a serving platter and top with chicken and any remaining juices from baking sheet. Serve immediately.

Nori and kelp butter recipes

Did you know you can mix seaweed with melted butter to enhance the taste of a variety of dishes? We have provided two examples using two different varieties of seaweed and on two very different dishes. The butter itself is incredibly easy to make by simply grinding (if dry) or pureeing (if fresh/ wet) the seaweed of choice and mixing with melted butter. These recipes were published in Bon Appétit.

Note* the kelp and nori recipes assume using dry seaweed as that’s what is mostly available at the store, however, using fresh seaweed as puree will likely have an even better taste and texture.

  1. Scallops with Nori Brown Butter and Dill

    1. Melt butter in a small saucepan over medium heat and cook, stirring often, until butter foams, then browns (do not let it burn), 5–8 minutes. Transfer to a medium bowl.

    2. Pulse nori and soaking water in a food processor to a coarse paste. Stir into brown butter along with chopped dill; season with salt and keep nori brown butter warm.

    3. cook and serve scallops with nori brown butter, dill sprigs, and lemons for squeezing over.

  2. Blackened Cabbage with Kelp Brown Butter

    1. Grind kombu in a spice mill or with a mortar and pestle to a fine powder. (You should have about ¾ tsp.) Heat oil in a medium heavy skillet over medium-high and add half of cabbage, cut side down. Cook cabbage, undisturbed, until underside is almost blackened (the edge of the sides will start to brown as well), 10–15 minutes.

    2. Reduce heat to medium-low, add butter to skillet, and shake pan to help butter get in, around, and under cabbage. As soon as butter is melted and foaming, tilt skillet toward you and spoon browning butter over cabbage, being sure to bathe the area around the core.

Seaweed sport drink pouches used at the London Marathon

A London-based start-up called Skipping Rocks Lab has created edible and biodegradable pouches, called Ooho, that dissolve in about a month when discarded. The cool part is, they are made from seaweed, a sustainable resource.

Oohos were used recently at the London Marathon. The golf ball sized pouches were filled with a sports drink. Runners merely had to bite into the pouch or place the entire pod inside their mouth and start chewing to access the once of liquid. The event organizers wanted to cut down on the one-time use plastics typically associated with these events, and the company got a chance to show how their application can be scaled for mass production in the future.

Just another way that seaweed is changing how people do business.

Read an article from the Washington Post

soy sauce made from fermented seaweed instead of soy

Motoharu Uchida, a fisheries researcher, has created a fermented seaweed version of soy sauce. The story behind the discovery is amusing, Motoharu had forgotten that he left a batch of seaweed in his refrigerator. The seaweed had turned rancid, but when he poured the rotten glob down the sink, a faint sweet smell arose. This lead to the 15-year long journey in creating a soy sauce made from fermented seaweeds. Upon final success, he named his sauce “nori shoyu” (seaweed soy sauce).

The resulting sauce is weaker than traditional soy sauce, however, the umami savory flavor is said to last longer. The seaweed soy sauce contains no wheat or soybeans which means it’s an excellent alternative for individuals with certain food allergies and could reduce the need for soy.

Read the entire story from here

A new book, “Enzymatic Technologies for Marine Polysaccharides” contains an interesting chapter on seaweeds called, “The manufacture, characterization, and uses of fucoidans from macroalgae.

Fucoidans are sulfated, complex, fucose-rich, polymers found in brown seaweeds, most notably the order Fucales known as the fucoids. The chapter details extraction methods and uses in food supplements, pharmaceuticals, bio-materials, cosmetics, and animal/ agricultural applications.

The authors claim that most fucoidan available on the market are for dietary supplementation, however, they admit that the molecule species is hard to identify and robust identification assays should be employed in any bioactive study. There is a new interest in animal health relating to fucoidan, and could be an emerging market.

Focoidans are considered safe and have a variety of uses, again showing how a completely sustainable resource (seaweeds) have a variety of revenue streams.

Marvel's Eat the Universe: aquatic-themed sandwich with fresh seaweed

This is fun! On a new digital series, Marvel’s Eat the Universe, celebrity chef Justin Warner is joined by special guests to craft unique, fun dishes inspired by Marvel characters and stories!

In this episode, chef Brian Tsao creates an aquatic-themed sandwich inspired by Namor the Sub-Mariner! The sandwich uses fresh seaweed along with fried bay scallops, shrimp, calamari, oysters, and white fish.

For the directions follow the link here and you can watch the video below.

Ramen with kelp stock!

Ramen is a popular Japanese dish, it consists of noodles served in a meat or (occasionally) fish-based broth, often flavored with soy sauce or miso. There are also a variety of toppings available.  Ramen has become a culinary explosion, with ramen shops popping up all over the USA.

However, going out for ramen with vegetarian friends can lead to mixed reviews. The main difference comes in the vegetarian broth, and the broth is what makes or breaks a bowl of ramen. To answer this problem, some chefs have started making kelp broths. Kelp broth will naturally have a meaty (umami) taste with a hint of salty ocean. We recently read a review in Broadsheet (food and drink section) from a die-hard ramen fan in Australia. The author of the piece, Molly Urquhart, goes into great detail about her typical disappointment with vegetarian ramen, and how her discovery of kelp broth is more than satisfactory.

We hope to see more ramen shops incorporating their own version of seaweed or kelp broth. Kelp stock would be an excellent meat broth alternative being sustainable, healthy, and economically viable.

Portland chef says, "Throw some seaweed in that!"

Portland chef Mike Wylie suggests using dried seaweed like bay leaves in your everyday cooking. You’ll be doing the local, sustainable seaweed economy a big favor.

At a networking event “Why Seaweed Matters” Wylie said that when he walks through any of the Big Tree Hospitality kitchens he co-owns and operates, and he sees a pot of anything simmering on the stove, “I’m like ‘throw some seaweed in that!’ because it makes most things taste better.” Seaweed deepens flavor in dishes stemming from many other cultures, everything from vegetable soup and tomato sauce to rice and beans and meaty braises.

When including dried seaweed in your everyday cooking, for every quart of liquid, add a 2- by 2-inch piece of dried seaweed, before setting the pot to simmer. The rule of thumb is that most seaweed has done its work after 30-40 minutes in the pot.

You can read more about “why kelp matters” on the FB event page

Seaweed inspired organic sunscreen

As we leave winter behind, it will soon be time to dust off the sunglasses and purchase a bottle of your favorite sunscreen.

Sunscreens have received a lot of bad press lately, either because of their ability to damage skin or because they wash off into the ocean and are toxic to marine life. An Icelandic company Taramar has been working to address these issues. Taramar focuses on skin health by the use of natural molecules found in plants. Recently they turned their attention to seaweed.

Their result was the TARASÓL UV filter which lacks preservatives and is safe for the skin and body.

Professor Gudrun Marteinsdottir, founder and CEO of Taramar, says, “TARASÓL is the result of years of basic research in marine biology and nutritional science leading to new knowledge on the functional properties of seaweed.″

Taramar has not disclosed the molecule from seaweed. However, we know that plants have developed ways of avoiding UV damage and this could be a good way to harness what nature already knows to produce a safe organic alternative to traditional sunscreens.

Operation Crayweed: restoring Sydney's underwater forests.

Sydney Australia used to have a rich coastline teeming with life, and crayweed (Phyllospora comosa) stretched far and wide. Crayweed is a brown macroalga that forms dense bushy habitat for a variety of marine life. Sometime back in the 80s, crayweed largely disappeared, and much of the inhabitants with it. While the cause of the crayweed reduction was unclear, many point to prolonged poor water quality.

The water quality in Sydney has improved, but the crayweed didn’t bounce back as expected. Thus enters Operation Crayweed, an effort to restore the natural population of crayweed around Sydney. The group settles crayweed onto mats, then divers deploy and secure the mats so the crayweed can naturally spread.

Below is a wonderful video outlining the effort. What a good way to rebuild an ecosystem, from the bottom up! Read more about Operation Crayweed at http://www.operationcrayweed.com/

Seaweed in your garden: a good fertilizer and potential pest control

Many people around the world for centuries have known that seaweeds are an excellent fertilizer. Recently people have been reporting another benefit of using seaweeds in their garden, pest control.

When these reports started rolling in, researchers began experimenting on apple orchards, and so far have some conflicting data. One experiment in Washington found mite populations reduced when seaweed extracts were applied to the apples. However, in Vermont, another team found no difference in mite population but did report a reduction of maggots.

While the research remains inconclusive, many garden enthusiasts swear by it. Some claim that the timing of application is important, depending on where you are geographically and the type of pests you encounter.

Liquid seaweed is a common store item that can be used as fertilizer and pest control.

Further research into the mechanisms of these deterrents is needed. If conclusive, seaweeds could be an excellent organic pesticide for home or industrial use.

New review published on bioactive metabolites within seaweeds

A new review of bioactive metabolites in seaweeds was just published in Aquaculture. The review focused on carotenoids, polyunsaturated fatty acids, phycocolloids and sterols along with their chemical ecology.

Seaweeds are commonly harvested and consumed because of their high vitamin and antioxident content. However, secondary metabolites are widely used in the pharmaceutical and commercial sector for the production of algae derived phycocolloids like carrageenan, algin, steroids, lectins, agar, and carotenoids.

The review concluded that “seaweeds have a wide range of bioactive secondary metabolites which exhibits different pharmacological activity like anticancer, an-tifungal, anti-inflammatory, and antioxidant activity. The secondary metabolites obtained from the seaweeds are also widely used as healthier food ingredients in the manufacture of nutraceuticals throughout the world. The presence of diverse pharma-cologically effectual bioactive metabolites in the natural seaweeds makes it unique and indispensable in the identification of lead molecule for the new drug discovery.”

Pseudoscience in food health is extremely prevalent on the internet and social media. Rigorous studies and reviews on bioactives like these can help consumers separate true from perceived health benefits of their food.

New study examines the lipid profile of the sugar kelp (Saccharina latissima)

A recent study titled ”Polar lipid profile of Saccharina latissima, a functional food from the sea” was just published in the journal, Algal Research.

Saccharina latissima is a brown alga (kelp). It is known by the common name sugar kelp, and also sea belt or Devil's apron, due to its shape. Sugar kelp grows relatively fast and large (about 5 meters, or 16 feet long), and its ability to be grown on a long line also makes it an appealing species for near shore cultivation. Indeed sugar kelp farms have been on the rise within the USA.

The researchers examined all the lipids within sugar kelp important for either nutrition or other commercial use. They reported high levels of PUFAs (polyunsaturated fatty acids), such as the highly prized omega-3s, EPA and DHA that are typically sourced from fish oils. Western diets present high levels of omega-6 PUFAs, with a nutritional ratio omega-6/omega-3 greater than 2, which has been associated with increased risk of mortality due to cancer, cardiovascular, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases. However, marine macroalgae, such as S. latissima, present a much higher prevalence of omega-3 PUFAs than land vegetables. A diet rich in omega-3 PUFAs can reduce Omega-6/Omega-3 ratio, being nutritionally more healthful and contributing to the prevention of chronic diseases

Scientists sequence the genome of popular Japanese seaweed (Cladosiphon okamuranus) in preparation for climate change

Each year, thousands of tons of seaweed is harvested along the coast of Okinawa, Japan. However, scientists are warning that anthropogenic climate change will lower the annual yield and create a demand for new farming methods.

Researchers at the Okinawa Institute of Science and Technology Graduate University (OIST) have sequenced the genome a popular brown seaweed, mozuku (Cladosiphon okamuranus). As pollution and rising temperatures changes the ocean, this data may provide critical information for local seaweed farmers.

“My future plan is to establish new methods for cultivation of this species,” said Dr. Nishitsuji. “Using those markers, we can do cross-breeding. This is a popular method for making new varieties of land plants, especially wheat and potatoes, but in the case of seaweed, no one has succeeded in cross-breeding.”

As the ocean changes, seaweed farmers will need these genetic tools to enhance breeding programs.

The study can be viewed here at Scientific Reports

Using macroalgae as an indicator of ocean conditions through time.

Researchers in Japan recently published a study in the Journal of Oceanography on using position-dependent radiocarbon as an indicator of oceanographic conditions during algal growth.

The macroalga Undaria pinnatifida grows in a predictable way, older growth at the top and the new growth is at the bottom (image below)

undaria_growth.jpg

The researchers hypothesized that the age of the Undaria tissue would correlate with ocean conditions through time. Inorganic carbon ∆14C was tracked in tissues and ambient water through time. The study concluded that inorganic carbon in the Undaria tissues did correlate with oceanic samples through time.

They concluded that this technique “provides a new tool to better understand the role of oceanographic conditions in sustaining coastal ecosystem productivity.”

It will be interesting to see this new approach applied to other species, such as Pterygophora californica, which can live upwards of 15 years.

Flexible Conductors from Brown Algae for Green Electronics

Researchers recently published about novel conductors in Advanced Sustainable Systems. What makes these conductors so novel is they are made from brown algae or kelps.

Alginate from brown seaweeds are are used to make a flexible sodium alginate film. Ultrathin gold layers are then added to the alginate film. The resulting foils are thin, easy to handle, and shape, while showing good conductive properties.

The researchers believe this novel use of sodium alginate conductors is a “very promising candidate to be employed in green electronics, thanks to the reduced energy consumption required for their fabrication, the absence of toxic components or chemicals that are derived from oil, and the possibility to disassemble the devices at the end of their life in environmentally friendly conditions.”

The research can be viewed here

"I want kelp on every table in America"

Sarah Redmond, founder of Springtide Seaweed, has a clear vision for the future of seaweed cultivation. Springtide is perusing an additional 20 acre site to accompany their 35 acre site off Stave Island Maine. Redmond claims there is plenty of room for growth when it comes to seaweed cultivation and that it can be done sustainably without competing with other marine activities.

Springtide Seaweed’s products are powders that can be used as culinary seasonings and salt substitutes. Redmond said, “I want kelp on every table in America,” she said. “It is nature’s true healthy salt.”

Read the full article here from BDN Hancock