Lately there's been a lot of buzz about a certain magical seaweed that tastes like bacon—at least when you fry it. Plenty of bacon-lovers are finding that the seaweed resembles their favorite fried pork product so closely, chefs have been going wild for it. They're doing everything from sliding the seaweed into BLTs to making butter out of it, to creating elaborate dishes that replace bacon's umami-filled (but also calorie-stuffed and fat-packed) flavor with the far more virtuous properties of a sea plant.
Photo courtesy of Instagram/@heeyri
This seaweed sensation is called dulse, and it's been around for centuries. But considering the recent buzz around it, Esquire decided to find out what, exactly, is the deal with dulse, and whether it does actually taste like bacon.
As Esquire reports, the trend can be traced back to Oregon State University, where researchers made an accidental discovery when they were growing dulse to use as a food for abalone.
"We've actually been growing dulse for 20 years here," as Chris Langon of Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center tells Esquire. "Initially we were growing dulse for abalone. We only started growing it for human consumption in that last year or so," after the seaweed turned out to have unmistakably bacon-like qualities when fried. An experimental chef named Jason Ball, one of the researchers on the OSU project, told the publication, "We didn't start the project with the intent to create a bacon substitute. That was actually more of a discovery that's happened along the way."
Chefs like Vitaly Paley of Portland, Oregon's Imperial have been working with OSU and using dulse in all kinds of creations, from pairing it with hamachi crudo to making a rich dipping sauce out of it. Paley says customers have been all over it. Right now research is underway at OSU to figure out how to create enough dulse to meet chefs' and consumers' needs, if demand continues to grow for healthy but flavor-packed versions of bacony dishes.
Paley tells Esquire: "I don't see a reason why we couldn't make a bacon-less BLT. There are multiple ways we could serve it in traditional dishes in place of bacon," says Paley.
Note that when it's raw (we haven't tried it that way), dulse doesn't really taste like bacon at all. But when you fry it? Layer it up with some mayo, lettuce and tomato on toast, and dare your favorite skeptical bacon-lover to a blind taste test.
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