Scientists seek a more scrumptious seaweed

Undaria pinnatifida. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
Undaria pinnatifida. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
The Government is putting more than $3million into research trying to learn the health benefits of an exotic seaweed species.

AgResearch scientists, alongside counterparts in Singapore, will try to develop ways to cook or process the seaweed, known as Undaria pinnatifida, that makes it more palatable for people to eat.

AgResearch senior scientist Dr Linda Samuelsson said people around the world, including Maori, had been eating seaweed for hundreds of years.

"But despite it being easily grown and rich in important nutrients, it is not a staple in most people’s diets.

"Partly that is because it isn’t to many people’s taste, but also because many of these important nutrients are locked inside the seaweed and aren’t readily absorbed by our bodies when we eat it."

Seaweed proteins are less digestible than animal proteins, so the research will try to find ways to "unlock" the nutrients for the person eating it, Dr Samuelsson said.

"We’ll also be looking at how the seaweed proteins interact with people’s gut microbiome [the collection of microorganisms that live in the digestive tract]."

Chef Dale Bowie — who has worked at Heston Blumenthal’s Michelin star restaurant The Fat Duck in the UK — will also be involved in the research.

"I look forward to the possibility of creating amazing products and flavours from seaweed," he said.

The project will also include AgriSea New Zealand, a business that creates seaweed products for farming and horticultural businesses.

AgriSea general manager Tane Bradley said his organisation had been working on increasing the value of seaweed to New Zealand’s economy and was looking forward to being involved in the research.

AgResearch said Undaria pinnatifida was listed as one of the 100 most invasive species worldwide, and past eradication programmes in this country had failed.

The Crown Research Institute said its investigation into the seaweed could encourage more interest in the wild harvest of it.

It said it hoped to have developed a "flavourful and nutritious seaweed prototype" by the end of the second year of the three-year project.

Southern Clams has been harvesting seaweed in Otago Harbour for commercial use for several years, but is restricted to only taking it from artificial surfaces such as boats and wharves.

That company wants to harvest it from all surfaces and increase its production to meet a high level of demand from customers.

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