According to CEVA, the French study centre for algal development, world production of seaweed has been increasing constantly since 1950, reaching 14.7 million tonnes in 2009. Almost all of this production comes from Asia with Europe representing just 0.01%. Most of this production occurs in France and Russia.
Traditionally used for Asian dishes such as sheets of Nori that wrap sushi, Asian cuisine uses around 50 different varieties of seaweed. Although still a niche product in Europe, seaweed is also becoming better known and is considered a natural food and ingredient. An estimated 800 tonnes per year of seaweed is harvested in France with 23 different varieties being authorised for food use. This is leading to an innovative product range including spreadables, salads, marinates as well as salted and dehydrated presentations. A previous FoodAlert article on the topic highlighted further market innovations.
A number of innovative companies have set up in Brittany such as C-Weed, specialised in culture and processing with a range of products including dried, powdered and leafs of seaweed. Products are certified under the European organic label. Around 50% of production is sold fresh although this form is considered very fragile as it does not support more than 24 hours out of water. Another 25% is salted and the remaining 25% dried.
Algues Services is another seaweed company based in Roscoff with an impressive range of products for many culinary uses. Seaweed tartare developed by the company is made from a preparation of marinated seaweed, olive oil and herbs. The product range is achieving growing success.
A number of oyster farmers are also turning to seaweed to diversify and compliment shellfish farming. The combination of increasing production, innovative products and consumer demand for natural and organic will no doubt lead to bright days for seaweed in Europe.
Finnian O’Luasa, Paris Office, Bord Bia – Irish Food Board