By Lauren Olson, Farm & Sea to Campus Communications Intern

Posted December 9, 2016

News

Markets & Recipes for Kelp May Lead to the Rise of a New "Super Vegetable"

(GreenWave Executive Director Bren Smith is pictured at left) 

That was a big question for University of Connecticut Ecology and Evolutionary Professor Charlie Yarish, which led him to reach out to Norwalk Community College (NCC) and their Hospitality and Culinary Arts program to determine if there was an opportunity for collaboration. There was interest, and NCC Professor and Chef Jeffry Trombetta worked with five students in one of his four-week classes in June 2016 to develop recipes for kelp. Ultimately, the hope is that there can be greater awareness about culinary uses of kelp in order to encourage its use in the food service sector and create more opportunities for aquaculture in Connecticut.  

One primary reason that kelp is of great interest is that it provides multiple ecosystem services and contributes to sustainability in our oceans. Plus, it's a delicious product that can be used on menus here in New England and beyond. Given all of its benefits for human and environmental health, Scientific American recently called kelp the “new super vegetable.” 

                                                              (Yarish and Kim, UCONN)

“It is very important the public knows that seaweed farming and shellfish farming provide critical ecosystem services that they will benefit from, just like the private sector benefits from using public waters”, Professor Yarish noted. “The government is not the only solution for cleaning up coastal waters – it is a problem the private sector can get involved with and help with. It is a win-win for the environment.”

Professor Yarish has spent nearly 50 years focusing on seaweed as part of his research and teaching. He had made a commitment to open source documentation of cultivation and processing techniques and infrastructure for kelp, which has allowed the private sector to quickly evolve and build on the existing research and information available.

He was able to do this with support from places like USDA’s NIFA program and NOAA's Sea Grant and SBIR programs. Charlie feels that private-public partnerships in this work are incredibly important. In his experience, research and development from the university and public sector which provides open source information helps support ongoing innovation in the private sector. They complement one another and lead to a win-win-win situation for the environment, for the public, and for the private sector.  View the open-source New England Seaweed Culture Handbook and videos online.

Professor Trombetta had this to say about his experience partnering on this project:  

“Working with Dr. Charles Yarish, the UConn Marine Scientist and Professor behind seaweed cultivation in the Long Island Sound and worldwide (and his kelp team of researchers and aqua-farmers), has been an absolute culinary enlightenment. If you live in California, it’s a chef’s agricultural dream to have their sustainable products at your disposal. If you live near the Long Island Sound, chef’s can have a similar aquaculture dream by having a new sea vegetable to work/play within their culinary adventures. 

"I have learned about cultivated sugar kelp that is virtually new in this format – fresh processed and not dried. The culinary attributes are endless and up to an individual chef’s ability and talent. I even wrapped hot dogs with kelp and grilled them with the “kelp on." Given the limitations of our consumable wild marine life over the years, we have to work with sustainable food sources from our sound thanks to the development, cultivation, farming and harvesting of Long Island Sound sugar kelp.”

                    (Yarish and Trombetta, photo credit: Jeffry Trombetta)

On June 16, 2016, the NCC students prepared meals with kelp as part of this collaboration between the University of Connecticut’s Ecology & Evolutionary and Marine Science programs and the Hospitality and Culinary Arts program at Norwalk Community College. The collaboration yielded 100 recipes featuring kelp in day-to-day cooking.
 

(L- Kelp Fritters, R- grilled corn wrapped in kelp, photo credit: Jeffry Trombetta)

The kelp that the students used came from three different farms, including GreenWave's kelp farm in the Thimble Islands and Norm Bloom & Son, LLC. GreenWave has been farming kelp for five years, and supplied 99% of the kelp that has been processed by the NCC program. Reproductive kelp donor plants are harvested by divers in Long Island Sound, and then prepared to release their spores. After spore release they attach in chambers and then are transferred to a kelp nursery at UConn for about 30-35 days. From there, they are distributed to sites along Long Island Sound, where they grow on 1 mm strings wrapped around longlines about 306 feet under water. They grow and develop into the long brownish-colored seaweed that is later harvested, processed, and sold. Learn more about kelp and the 3-D Ocean Farming method that GreenWave’s Executive Director Bren Smith uses by watching this video.  

Some of the recipes that the students featured at their event on June 16th, 2016, included kelp stuffed filet of beef, kelp fritters, roasted potatoes and kelp, roasted corn wrapped with kelp, kelp pizza, black eyed peas and kelp, and lemon cream sauce with kelp. Professor Trombetta is working on a book full of kelp recipes.  

Professor Yarish adds:

“Institutional folks could stimulate market demand by purchasing kelp, and in return, they can get a reasonably priced, sustainably-grown seafood product that is delicious and gluten free. It can fit into the American palate with the right recipes, like those developed by Chef Jeffry Trombetta and his students at NCC. You can serve it at your institutions and at your family’s dinner table, and it’s home-grown.”


Resources

Additional articles about the partnership between Norwalk Community College and the UConn Marine Sciences Department:

Learn more about seaweed farmers and the rising popularity of seaweed: