A range of natural flavoursome food products that rely neither on added salt or monosodium glutamate may soon be available thanks to a Cork-based company exploring the food potential of a major Irish natural resource – seaweed. The company, CyberColloids of Carrigaline, Co. Cork is currently researching a suite of products that include mildly processed Irish seaweeds as flavoursome ingredients. In Asia, seaweed already comprises up to 20% of the diet and is recognised not only for its nutritional benefits but also for its unique flavours.
“Irish seaweed is an underexploited, naturally nutritious food which has been labelled as a “super food” in the scientific literature because of its health giving properties,” said Ross Campbell of CyberColloids, at a regular meeting of the Sea Change Marine Food Advisory Group, set up by the Marine Institute in 2007 to address the coordinated approach to marine food research advocated under the Sea Change national marine research strategy, in Cork yesterday (Monday 5th October). “Our company recognised a significant commercial opportunity to develop high-value food products from Irish seaweeds that were not only nutritious, but tasty and appealing to western consumers. To do this, we needed to engage in new research, particularly regarding our ability to assess and utilise the flavour components of edible Irish seaweeds.”
The research, which was led by Dr Sarah Hotchkiss of CyberColloids with assistance from the marine research programme of the National Development Plan as part of the Sea Change Strategy developed and administered by the Marine Institute, included an assessment of market needs, the food processing methods currently available and the availability of Irish seaweeds as a commercial resource. At the outset CyberColloids needed to build an understanding of the science behind flavour development and enhancement in seaweeds, to identify the components in seaweed that are important in taste and flavour and to understand how various cooking and processing methods could influence that flavour.
“We wanted to develop processing techniques for seaweed that were more in line with those found in the kitchen than those found in large scale industrial processes,” said Sarah Hotchkiss, who carried out the research. “To do this, we had to enlist the services of an international flavour house to develop a unique “flavour language” for edible seaweeds and to train us in the use of this new flavour language. As a result, CyberColloids now has an experienced panel of sensory analysts that is available to assess seaweed flavours and, to the best of our knowledge, we are the only company in Ireland to do so.”
As a result of this work, a range of concept products have been identified, developed and screened by CyberColloids for commercial potential. Three condiment products are currently being assessed by an Irish food company with a view to commercialisation later this year.
“Taste is still the key driver in the food industry,” said Ross Campbell, “and consumers will not compromise even for the most nutritious of foodstuffs.”
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