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Seaweed flavour

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Irish seaweed is an under exploited, naturally nutritious food which is being labelled as a “super food” (Ito & Hori 1989 (1), MacArtain et al 2007 (2), Warrand 2006 (3)). In Asia, seaweed comprises up to 20% of the diet and is recognised not only for its nutritional benefits but also for its unique flavours. In the west, seaweed has yet to find widespread use. Although traditionally eaten for centuries in many European cultures, including Ireland, seaweed still invokes a negative perception when associated with food and in general, the unique flavours of seaweed are not readily accepted. Even the most health conscious of consumers will not compromise when it comes to taste (Bord Bia 20074).

CyberColloids recognised a significant commercial opportunity to develop high-value food products from Irish seaweed that were not only nutritious but tasty and appealing to western consumers. To realise this opportunity however, the company needed to engage in new research, fundamental to which was the ability to assess and utilise the flavour components of edible Irish seaweeds.

The current project targeted the acquisition of new knowledge and the development of new skills to enable CyberColloids to produce commercially attractive, seaweed derived, flavour ingredients for the food industry. Five core areas of research were developed, each with specific objectives and deliverables:

  • Building a knowledge base on flavour within CyberColloids;
  • Building a capability to assess taste and flavour;
  • Formulating product concepts ;
  • Developing cooking & processing methodologies; and
  • Designing a range of finished products with view to commercialisation.

At the outset, the project needed to build an understanding of the science behind flavour development and enhancement in seaweeds; to identify the components in seaweed important for taste and flavour and also to understand how various cooking and simple processing techniques could affect the development and modification of flavour. This work was carried out through critical review of the literature.

CyberColloids enlisted the help of an international flavour house to develop a unique flavour language for edible seaweeds. Subsequently, CyberColloids staff were trained in the use of this flavour language. CyberColloids now has an experienced panel of sensory analysts that is available to assess seaweed flavours and to the best of our knowledge, we are the only company in Ireland with the capacity to do so.

A range of concept products were formulated, based on (i) an assessment of market needs, (ii) available methodology and (iii) the status of Irish seaweeds as a commercial resource. Thirteen commercially available Irish seaweeds were screened for potential use in the project, based on (i) current or potential commercial availability and (ii) potential as a raw ingredient for flavour generation. Eight were selected for further assessment.

CyberColloids wished to develop processing techniques for seaweed ingredients that were more in line with those found in the kitchen than those found in large scale industrial processing facilities. Kitchen chemistry was employed to explore the effects of processing on flavour development and modification but the research had a strong scientific basis. A range of concept products were identified, recipes were developed and screened in-house for potential. Concepts were rejected, accepted or modified, depending on the outcome of sensory assessment. Three products are currently being assessed by an Irish food company with view to commercialisation later in the year.

In every sense, this project has been highly successful, key outcomes are as follows:

  • the development of an extensive new knowledge base in the area of flavour and flavour development in foodstuffs, specifically seaweeds but transferable to other foods;
  • the acquisition of a new capability to assess the unique flavours of Irish seaweeds through the development and use of a flavour language for seaweeds; and
  • the development of a range of concept recipes and products that are currently being assessed by an Irish food company (OHCo. Ltd., Co. Wicklow) with a view to commercialisation towards the end of 2010.

References

  1. Ito, K. and Hori, K. (1989). Seaweed: chemical composition and potential food uses. Food reviews international. 5(1): 101-144.
  2. Warrand, J. (2006). Healthy polysaccharides. /Food technology and Biotechnology. 44(3): 355-370.
  3. MacArtain, P, Gill, C., Brooks, M., Campbell, R. & Rowland, I.
    (2007). The nutritional and bioactive components of European edible seaweeds.
  4. Bord Bia (2007). Consumer Lifestyle Trends. Bord Bia Report.