Are you a bacon-craving vegan—or even an omnivore who feels just a little bit guilty about chowing down on a high-fat meat packed with nitrates? That distinctly smoky, savory flavor is undeniably seductive (and a gateway meat for even the most staunch herbivores!). But what if you could get your bacon fix from a completely ethical—and meat-free—source?
No, it's not an additive or artificial flavor. This is a happy accident of nature. About 15 years ago, researchers at Oregon State University were developing a special strain of dulse, a succulent red algae that grows wild along Pacific and Atlantic coasts, to use as food for abalone. While experimenting with preparation methods, they made an important discovery—it tastes like bacon when its cooked.
Yesterday, OSU announced that they've patented the unusual strain, and intend to develop it as a nutritious food source. (It's packed with minerals, vitamins, antioxidants, and protein—researchers say it has twice the nutritional value of kale!)
This dulse’s umami flavor comes from its natural glutamic acid (the "g" in MSG). When fried or smoked, researchers swear the flavor is reminiscent of bacon. To showcase it, the OSU team is developing a wide variety of products from veggie burgers to trail mix and salt substitutes. A salad dressing will likely be the first to market—chefs in Portland are already starting to experiment with it.
Dulse's unique flavor and high nutrition, paired with the huge growth in water recirculation systems, make it a prime candidate for commercial success. But it may come with a high price tag. The director of OSU’s Food Innovation Center, Michael Morrissey, estimates that it could cost around $60 per pound.
Good thing that you can find a huge variety of affordable seaweeds to hold you over in the meantime. No, they won't taste like bacon, but that doesn't mean they're not delicious!
Photo credit: Stacey Atkinson via Flickr