Mention the word seaweed and it conjures up images of giant slimy plants swaying to underwater currents often shown in TV channels. You might have even tasted some of these while going for the high-priced exotic Japanese cuisines such as Sushi and Temaki.
Now a team of marine biologists and food technologists in Kolkata, using extracts from these underwater plants found abundantly along our shores, has come up with some everyday food items like ice-cream, bread and cookies.
“As these underwater plants are a rich source of protein, vitamins and minerals, most prominently calcium, copper, iodine and iron, they could be our answer to the daily dosage of vitamin and mineral pills. They are also rich in protein, fibre and vitamins, specifically vitamin K and folic acid, while being low in calories and fat,” said Abhijit Mitra, former head of marine science department of Calcutta University who headed the team.
While the team has already demonstrated their products before a team of a scientists and officials from CSIR in Bengaluru in early September, they would very soon apply for a patent for these products.
The findings have also been published in the form of a book funded by the CSIR.
The research that culminated in these products, was a part of a larger project “Vulnerability Assessment and Development of Adaptation strategies for climate change impact with special reference to coasts and island ecosystem of India (VACCIN)” funded by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research – the largest research and development organisation in India.
Around 700 seaweed varieties are found along the shores of India. The team zeroed in on three species that are found abundantly in the Sunderbans and Digha area. While two of them Enteromorpha intestinalis and Ulva lactuca are green algae, the third one Catenella repens is a red alage.
After biologists managed to grow these weeds in natural conditions they extracted syrup from the seaweeds using steam. At this stage food technologists came into play and helped to prepare the food items using the right dosage of every ingredient.
“The syrup was then mixed with the normal ingredients such as flour to prepare the food items including cookies and bread. We have also prepared ice-creams,” said D Bera, assistant professor of food technology and biochemical engineering from Jadavpur University.
“These products would be first introduced in the island states such as Lakshadweep and Andaman and Nicobar Islands which have to rely on other states in the mainland for their food supply. Later, we would go for marketing in the cities,” said J Sundaresan, head of the climate change informatics in The National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources (NISCAIR) under CSIR.
Scientists also said that culturing seaweeds for food for humans would have other benefits too. As one square metre of seaweed can trap around 3 – 5 grams of carbon, they could help us fight the problem of climate change caused by carbon dioxide. Seaweeds are also a good source of bio-fertiliser.