OYSTERS might be the food of love but if you are vegetarian, then asparagus or strawberries were, until now, your next best aphrodisiac option.
But a salmon farm and marine scientists are trying to re-create the potent magic of oysters with an all-new vegetarian version made entirely from seaweed.
As it is still from the sea, it retains some deep-sea magic and a "fishy taste", but can the "vegetarian oyster" compete with the original?
Nick Joy, managing director of Loch Duart salmon farm in Sutherland, certainly thinks so.
He said: "I’m not sure if we can match the aphrodisiac qualities but it does have the benefits of being full of vitamins and minerals.
"I have sampled them and they are lovely. I haven’t eaten enough yet to say how they compare in some areas, but they taste exactly the same, are extremely nutritious and very good for you. They would be suitable for vegetarians, unlike real oysters."
Mr Joy hopes to export the seafood-free oysters to restaurants across Europe and even in Japan over the next year.
"We’ve had an amazing response since we embarked on the seaweed oyster.
"We’ve been sent recipe books and my aunt wrote to me with one of her recipes using dulse [seaweed] from the 1930s which stated it ‘tastes rather like an oyster’."
He added: "It’s stunning how widely seaweed is eaten. We’ve also been speaking to a seaweed chef based in Cornwall."
Dr Maeve Kelly, of the Scottish Association of Marine Science in Dunstaffnage, near Oban, has been working with the Loch Duart team on the project to cultivate the seaweed growing beside the salmon farm cages, similar to cultivating landcrop.
Mr Joy hopes to boost the seaweed production at his salmon farm to around 200 tonnes a year so that it can begin to target the export market.
Today, oysters are considered a great luxury and are farmed for those with expensive tastes. Through the ages, Roman emperors paid for them by their weight in gold, and the legendary lover Casanova reputedly devoured four dozen every morning in the bath with his lady of the moment.
Loch Duart’s new project will benefit from the company’s customer base and reputation for salmon, which is farmed in a sustainable way and is available on the tables of Robert De Niro’s restaurant Nobu, Quaglino’s and celebrity hang-outs The Ivy and Le Caprice.
Mr Joy said none of his celebrity customers or chefs have specifically asked for the vegetarian oyster option yet, but is confident it will be a hit. "We haven’t set a price and it’s too early to start marketing, but I do think it will be a success."