Seaweed AS is based in Sogn og Fjordane County and the kelp field is in Værlandet, while production facilities are in Bulandet. The research project will examine farming methods, technology and processing methods to establish efficient, stable and predictable production and raw material quality.
“This is fun. On this project I can apply all of my knowledge,” theoretician Dagbjørn Skipnes of Nofima smiles. He is a graduate engineer, thermodynamics expert and holds a PhD on the heat treatment of cod. They discuss the processing line, and the researcher has plenty of suggestions. How should one wash, cut, package? How large should the packages be?
“We don’t quite know which machines are required yet, it depends on how one wants to produce it. Should they freeze it in blocks or freeze single portions? It’s difficult to pack whole leaves. What about canning? Pickling? Drying?” the researcher suggests.
The kelp product will be carefully examined to ensure high food quality. Among other things a bright, clear and green colour is more appetizing than a dark brown, while texture is also important when kelp becomes food. It must be good to chew – neither tough nor limp.
New to the team is environmental and energy engineer Marthe Jordbrekk Blikra, who is a student at the University of Stavanger. In the next year she will write a master’s thesis in biochemistry at Nofima on which micro-organisms accompany the kelp up from the sea.
“I like the kelp project because it’s sustainable and ecological. They use a resource that doesn’t put a strain on the environment,” she says.
Since there are no regulations on threshold values for foreign substances in kelp, there is much work to be done in analysing and assessing risk factors, such that one may ensure production of safe raw materials and food. Blikra will submit her report in June 2016.
Just next to the production premises is the Havsalaten café. In the kitchen Gunhill Sæle-Bjørkhaug is making carrot soup on a kelp stock. With inspiration from the chefs at Norsk Sjømatsenter, she has developed some of her own kelp recipes, including various pestos. If the project succeeds, there is a great chance that delicious kelp food will appear on Havsalaten’s menu.
Commercial kelp farming is a new thing in Norway, but around ten businesses are currently getting into it. So far none of them grow kelp for food through regular sales channels, but forecasts look promising, and interest in the products is on the rise.
“National TV interviewed us on the business. ‘Profit from kelp’ was the headline. Well – that’s still some way off,” the head of Seaweed AS admits. However, Seaweed is first out of the blocks, the business has a dream team to support it, and the following day a chef called from Brimiseter wanting kelp.
They thought the market wanted chopped leaves. But then it proved that the gourmet chefs want sheets. There will be a lot of trial and error going forward. Along with the project participants, in the year ahead they will improve farming techniques, ensure food security, and develop the market, so that kelp products are adapted to those who want to buy them.