Seaweed, sensory characteristics of vegetables … from the sea

Is there an increasing place for seaweed in our plates? Currently barely consumed in France, seaweed has slowly been introduced through Asian cuisine. Its use as an ingredient in our Western diet is still very limited: could it be regarded in the same manner as farm vegetables? Does it present the same sensory characteristics? First elements of response are given by Céline Baty-Julien, R&D manager – sensory and nutritional quality.
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From a sensory point of view, one can find ‘green’ shades in seaweed that are generally perceived in most farm vegetables,” explains Céline Baty-Julien, one of the specialists involved with Sensalg members since the platform was launched. “These conclusions are based more particularly on the results from a panel trained to characterize the sensory quality of fresh and processed seaweed and halophytes.” The sensory profiles of a large number of samples were thus produced.

What can be retained from the sensory profiles?

Céline Baty-Julien continues: “These green shades are light in fresh seaweed and tend to subside with most of the assessed processing techniques“.

While it is not surprising to note that most seaweed have very characteristic and often predominant marine flavours (reminding one of oysters, crabs, fish, etc.) it may be surprising to discover that others can be more acrid (animal, leathery tastes). These flavours are mostly reinforced by processes such as drying and salting. While the marine taste is predominant in Palmaria (or Dulse) for example, Himanthalia (or sea bean) is more acrid. In the mouth, the salty taste is often prevalent, and depends on the technologies applied beforehand. The umami taste can be noticeable. Flavours are generally not very pronounced for seaweed which are fresh, frozen, or packaged fresh in a protective atmosphere. These flavours can also be hidden by the brine of “high pressure” or sterilized seaweed.

New textures in the culinary range

The texture of seaweed can be different from that of farm vegetables, having a much lower fibrous component,” explains Céline Baty-Julien. Indeed, sometimes a wet (slimy) surface texture can be observed, which certain treatments are able to remove. Saccharina (or Kombu royal) and Himanthalia need to be chopped up fresh, or tenderized (by cooking for example). With technologies such as “high pressure” or sterilization, an interesting crunch can be maintained. Other species like Alaria (or Atlantic wakame) and Palmaria have a softer, more crunchy texture when consumed fresh.

These data come from Sensalg, a collaborative project involving CEVA, ADRIA, Idmer, Centre Culinaire Contemporain and Vegenov.

Credits pictures : Image à la une : © CevaColorful set of sushi and rolls top view on wood, closeup © Prostock-studio – © Fotolia
Marinaded Laminaria ( kelp ) © Oleksii Sergieiev – © Fotolia

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