Edible Monterey Bay

DULSE: Bacon-flavored seaweed being cultivated in Moss Landing

IMG_1545September 8, 2015 – A few weeks ago, the foodie world was abuzz when Bon Appétit magazine broke the news of seaweed that tasted like bacon, quoting Oregon State University researchers who are working to cultivate and prepare what has been dubbed “the Holy Grail of seafood.”

What Bon Appétit and other news outlets didn’t report is that a Moss Landing Marine Labs professor has just started growing and selling the very same seaweed—and it’s available nowhere else but here.

In fact, says MLML’s Dr. Michael Graham, he was delivering his first few packages of raw dulse to local CSF Real Good Fish about the time the story hit the national media. Good timing indeed.

Dulse (rhymes with pulse) is touted as a guilt-free superfood that has all the flavor of bacon without the calories, fat or animal flesh, but like other seaweeds, contains healthy helpings of protein, fiber, antioxidants, and trace minerals.

Graham is growing the feathery red seaweed in large bubbling tanks in Moss Landing, using nothing but pumped-in water from the bay and sunlight to make it grow. Under these conditions, dulse will double in size in a week, giving Graham a generous supply.

IMG_1504This enterprise is a side job for Graham, a well-known algae and seaweed expert whose research has focused on seaweeds in natural ecosystems and their utility in aquaculture.

He formed Sustainable Seaculture Technologies LLC three years ago with partner Ross Clark; Graham’s wife, Erica, is the operations manager, and his 16-year-old son helps package the product.

Graham points out that dulse is nothing new—it’s similar to seaweeds that have been eaten by humans for thousands of years—and it’s widely available in the United States as a dried product. “It’s field harvested on the East Coast, dried and shipped dry,” said Graham. In its dry form, “It’s kind of leathery.”

What Graham wants is to promote dulse in the raw.

“It takes no fertilizer, no chemicals, and it’s sustainable,” said Graham. “That’s the cool part about it.”

He’s now selling dulse as “Monterey Bay Reds” in a 2-ounce zip pouch. The seaweed is rinsed in brine to help maintain freshness before packaging, and will keep about a week in the refrigerator. To use it raw, simply rinse under the tap and chop or shred as desired; to bring out the bacon flavor, fry until crispy.

You could dry it to make it last longer, but as Graham puts it, “That kind of defeats the purpose.”

Graham sees dulse as an interesting addition to familiar foods like soups and salads, either as a raw product or fried to bring out the much-touted bacon flavor. Frying it “brings out the salt,” he said, which is what he thinks contributes to that taste.

IMG_1508A quick fry-up of a dulse sample did reveal an intriguing bacon-ish flavor and crispiness, although it doesn’t have bacon’s mouth feel or fat. As a raw product, it tastes like slightly salty parsley.

Graham is now handing out samples to a few select restaurants around the Monterey Bay so their chefs can try it out; “Right now, no one knows exactly what to do with it,” he said. He sees raw dulse as something that would inspire more creative food purveyors, and would be a natural for sushi restaurants and salad bars.

He and Erica are also developing recipes and are hoping to eventually make a pre-packaged “sea slaw” available. He’s delivering about 20 packages a week to Real Good Fish for distribution to customers, and is planning to make larger amounts available to restaurants upon request.

The company website includes two recipes and sells the dulse directly to consumers for $3.00 per package, plus $15 for shipping. www.sustainableseaculture.com.

For lots of information on how to forage for healthy seaweed in the Monterey Bay area see the fall issue of Edible Monterey Bay and John Cox’s story Tidal Treasures.