Stephen Jardine: Look to beach for food and drink

Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jane Barlow
Stephen Jardine. Picture: Jane Barlow
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Scotland’s food revolution continues. If anyone was in any doubt that things have changed, this week’s latest food and drink turnover figures surely prove the point.

The industry had a target to reach sales of £12.5 billion by 2017. In fact, turnover has already passed £13 bn, smashing through the goal set six years early.

The revised target sales figure for 2017 is now £16.5bn including exports worth £7.1bn. And all this against the backdrop of an industry that was flat-lining just six years ago.

At The Scotsman Food and Drink Conference earlier this week, the chief executive of Scotland Food and Drink predicted the best could be still to come. “We’re only just scratching the surface,” James Withers told industry delegates gathered in Edinburgh.

So with whisky and salmon already booming, where will the additional growth come from? The fact is both these established sectors still have significant scope for development if government gets behind them in terms of planning and regulation.

Other areas are poised for greatness. As wealth increases in the developing world, so does the demand for dairy products and our industry here has the capacity to react to that.

Already milk and cream are supporting a developing Scottish artisan chocolate sector, which is building a growing following around the world.

Also on this food journey, expect some surprises.

This weekend in Edinburgh, the Seaweed Health Foundation are holding a two-day gathering at the Royal Botanic Garden to explore the health and nutritional benefits of something most of us believe belongs on the beach rather than the plate.

In China and Japan, seaweed has been an accepted part of the daily diet for centuries. Here in Britain, we seem to like picking food from the trees not the ground so consumption has been minimal. But with growing fondness for Japanese food, that is changing.

Fiona Houston runs Mara Seaweed, which harvests seasonally and sustainably from around the Scottish coast. Her company supplies Scottish chefs including Dominic Jack, Paul Wedgwood and Roy Brett but don’t expect to see long strands of iodine blue seaweed on any of their menus. Instead, it is dried and powdered and used as a seasoning to add savoury umami flavour.

Potential health benefits provide an additional selling point. High in iron, calcium and Vitamin B12, it’s been claimed seaweed consumption can do everything from improving your skin to lowering risks of heart disease.

With author Fi Bird devoting a chapter to seaweed cooking in her book The Foragers Kitchen, it seems like the time has finally come for this overlooked coastal culinary resource.

Expect to see more of it in the shops and listed on menus as the first step to adding seaweed to the list of Scottish produce in demand around the world.