Scottish firm creates green and guilt-free vegan snacks from seaweed
Tucking in to a bag of crisps can be something of a guilty pleasure for many. But what if your sneaky snack was not only tasty but also healthy and kind to the planet?
That’s the intention of a small firm in the far north of Scotland which is dedicated to creating delicious and nutritious products from a natural “superfood” that grows wild on its doorstep – or more accurately, shoreline.
Wick-based Shore has been growing, harvesting and processing premium Scottish seaweeds for the past five years.
Now the company has produced an exciting new range of plant-based foods and is on a mission to introduce these into kitchens, offices and lunch boxes across the nation.
The bigger aim is to help establish a thriving modern edible seaweed sector in Scotland that is 100 per cent sustainable, good for the coastal environment and beneficial for locals in rural communities.
The company was set up by managing directors and co-founders Peter Elbourne and Keith Paterson, who wanted to create sustainable foods that could be grown in Scotland and would tap in to increasing consumer demand for heathier, plant-based diets.
“Scotland’s natural environment, cool clean waters and rural coastlines make the perfect conditions for great-quality seaweed to grow,” Mr Elbourne said.
“When you consider that seaweed requires zero inputs to grow – no land, fresh water, feed or fertlisers – and actually soaks up oceanic carbon dioxide in the process, it became a no brainer.”
Harvesting of seaweed, or kelp, has a long tradition in Scotland, particularly in the islands, with the boom period from I750 to I850 often described as the ‘kelping years’.
But the sector pretty much collapsed when foreign sources became cheaper.
Today the crop has earned ‘superfood’ status because of its nutritional content, which includes prebiotic fibre, protein, magnesium antioxidants and iodine.
Shore is licensed to harvest 17 different types of seaweed and its hardy team of gatherers ventures out in all seasons – and weathers – to hand-pick the sea’s bounty from around the local area.
“Our harvest sites are a mixture of exposed headlands and sheltered bays but they all have a high water exchange, which is perfect for high-quality seaweed,” he said.
“Different species grow best in different habitats, with wave action particularly important, and it is essential for us to work in tandem with nature.
“For example, this autumn the wracks on the upper shore were ready to pick a little earlier than last year and we adjusted our harvest plans.”
Back at the factory, the harvest is carefully washed before being dried at low temperature to preserve all its natural goodness.
Then it is turned into a variety of products, including unique pestos, tapenades and award-winning chips, as well as the raw ingredients to supply other food and drinks manufacturers.
The founders have spent a great deal of effort deciding the best ways to fit seaweed into modern-day lifestyles.
Mr Paterson said: “Our initial research found consumers were really interested in seaweed as an ingredient, both for its unique health benefits and its sustainability, but a lack of understanding of how to cook with it created a very large barrier to buying it.
“So our mission became to use seaweed to benefit foods that consumers were really familiar with, using seaweed’s unique properties to create plant-based versions of favourite foods.
“Seaweed soaks up minerals from the sea as it grows and it is especially high in iodine, a nutrient that many in the UK do not get enough of in their diet – especially vegans.
“It is also low in fat and high in fibre.”
It took the team nine months of recipe work and “a lot of trial and error” to come up with their current product range.
And they are delighted with the results, which they believe hit the perfect balance between highlighting seaweed’s umami flavour without being fishy.
They are also proud of their company’s green credentials, with their own team of marine ecologists deployed to carry out environmental impact monitoring surveys to ensure methods are sustainable and gatherers who are schooled to correctly handle wildlife encounters.
“Our trained harvesters carefully cut seaweed by hand, which means only specific parts of the plants are taken,” Mr Elbourne explained.
“This leaves enough material for regrowth and reproduction.
“Our harvests are timed to the natural peak of the seaweed’s growing period, taking only a specific licensed quota of total biomass during any year.
“Every seaweed has a season.
“Some species can be harvested for perhaps six months of the year, but most are only in peak condition for a couple of months.
“Of course the harvest team also have to schedule all work around the tides.
“This means we plan months ahead around the strong spring tides, when the lowest rocky shelves are exposed.”
And the work is never dull, outside amid the wonders of nature.
“Our most spectacular encounter was a pod of orca navigating their way through the Pentland Firth,” he said.
“We were very lucky as it was just as we finished a springtime monitoring survey.
“On most of our harvests there are seals close by, bobbing up and down in the swell.”
Then, after a hard day on the beach, there’s a healthy reward.
“My favourite would be the heat of our Sweet Sriracha Chips with an ice-cold beer,” he said.
“Equally the Lightly Salted Seaweed Chips go great with the botanicals of gin.
“And the pestos are excellent not just with pasta, but make a great topping for seafood, pizzas and sandwiches.”
Shore products are available online ranges were launched in late 2020. The Chips are available at branches of Coop and Sainsburys and selected health stores, delis and farm shops across Scotland and the UK.
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