Everything You Need to Know About the Seaweed That Tastes Like Bacon
Health Hacks It's not as crazy an idea as you might think, and it's been around for centuries.
When I was 10, my favorite Sunday breakfast was a pound of bacon. No eggs, no pancakes or toast, just a heaping plate of greasy, salty pork. I was a childhood carnephile.
A few decades later and I’m sitting here eating sautéed kale and homemade seitan. Yet even eighteen years of vegetarianism haven’t tarnished the fond memories of the palate-dulling meals of my youth. Though the ethical and nutritional profile of my diet has improved, I’ve never met a fake meat I didn’t want to try.
And now there’s seaweed that tastes like bacon. As a survivor of the carob craze, I’m skeptical.
The new savory sea vegetable is a special strain of dulse developed at Oregon State University, and curious consumers in Portland, Oregon can already try it in a few restaurants—deep fried, as befits a potential bacon killer.
Researchers intended to create a nutritious and inexpensive feed for commercial abalone (another commonly copied animal product), until someone remembered that people can eat dulse, too. It’s popular as a soup additive in Scandinavia and parts of Canada, imparting a salty flavor. I add the flakes to my popcorn. For centuries the traditional Welsh breakfast has included laverbread, a fried dish made from red algae related to dulse harvested on the shores of the Irish and Celtic Seas.
"Dulse will probably find niche uses for foodies looking to improve their diets, such as replacing bacon or pork in clam chowder or satiating a salt tooth."
Dried, dulse smells and tastes more fishy than smoky, but scientists and chefs who’ve fried it say it does taste like bacon. Given the myriad bacons in the world, it’s likely a good flavor analogue for at least one of them.
Texture shouldn’t be an issue, either. Anyone who’s forgotten to remove a piece of kombu from their soup or added too much wakame to ramen knows whole seaweed has a fleshy texture between the teeth. Frying a thick leaf should result in a strip that’s crisp on the outside and slightly chewy on the inside.
The OSU variety is grown in large vats of seawater, so like hydroponic farming, it could be scaled up for use far from the sea: indoors, inland or even offworld. Dulse is light on macronutrients, but the researchers say their variety is 16 percent protein and still an excellent source of iron and potassium. And for those of you who’ve been scared off by the recent (and unfair) maligning of kale, it also has far more iodine than you’ll ever need.
While it seems unlikely that dulse will be able to live up to all the hype (here comes another “superfood”), it will probably find niche uses for foodies looking to improve their diets: replacing bacon or pork in clam chowder or pea soup, for example, or satiating a salt tooth. Just remember not to overdo it. All things—even good things—in moderation.