A SMALL family owned business in Shetland is banking on the growing trend for a healthy lifestyle by diversifying into edible seaweed.
Described by many as the new superfood, seaweed has been eaten by coastal communities for centuries, and is part of the staple diet in countries such as Japan, China and Korea.
But algaculture could well become a new industry sector in Scotland too with more than 100 species growing in the sea around us, most of which are edible.
Ten years ago, Margaret and Michael Blance of Böd Ayre Products re-invented a long lost tradition when they started collecting seaweed and turning it into natural fertilisers which today are widely used in agriculture and gardening.
Now they have gone a step further and have set up a small seaweed farm for sea lettuce, sugar kelp and dulse to grow naturally on ropes, near their home on the Lunna peninsula.
Margaret Blance said they have embarked on a steep learning curve on how to grow, harvest and market the vegetables of the sea, adding that the initial responses from customers have been very positive.
She said there were many good reasons to eat more seaweed: “The more we researched, the more we realised what a good source of vitamins, minerals, amino acids and bio-stimulants it was.
“But it is only more recently that seaweed is becoming so highly valued in many other aspects in the Western world, other than plant food and animal feed supplements.
“Seaweed is valuable for human consumption, in medicines and cosmetics.”
She added: “The main market for edible seaweed is the herbal health industry, with more and more people becoming aware of its age-old benefits.
“Seaweed has ten times more calcium than a glass of milk, more vitamins and minerals than any land produced vegetable, and the ability to protect against and prevent disease.”
Böd Ayre’s seaweed is already used by local artisan cheese maker Caroline Henderson and as an ingredient for oatcakes by a bakery based in Forres.
Local chef and catering lecturer at Shetland College, Glynn Wright, has been experimenting with seaweed for the last year, and the edibles also feature on the Queen’s Hotel’s menu.
The company’s organically certified products include:
- Plant feeds – aimed at anyone who grows plants, from small organic growers of flowers or vegetables, through to farmers, turf growers, potato, wheat and barley growers, and larger operations. As a keen gardener herself Margaret has had excellent results using seaweed, and has also seen prize winning plants grown from it that are richer in colour and stronger. Research has also proven that crops are much more weather resistant with stronger roots when seaweed is used, with more resistance to pests and disease. It’s getting back to what our ancestors did in the old days using very natural fertilisation techniques with proven results. Product ranges are dried seaweed in granular, meal and powder forms, seaweed extract in both filtered and unfiltered varieties. The Sea-X Seaweed extract, especially the 1 litre size, has proven to be one of the most popular products for the small grower, having received excellent support from the large and popular garden centre Big Plant Nursery in West Sussex, as well as Da Plantiecrub locally.
- Animal feeds – aimed at livestock such as horses, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and bird breeders. These feeds are an excellent source of natural nutrients and vitamins, full of amino acids and bio-stimulants ensuing in healthy animals. They have had feedback of easier lambing and calving, and very recently the unfiltered seaweed extract fed to pigs had similar excellent results. Also they have found feeding silage grown on seaweed to animals resulted in much healthier animals, with hardly the need to have a well stocked “veterinary cupboard”. The product range includes dried seaweed in granular, meal and powder forms and seaweed extract in filtered and unfiltered.
- Edibles – recently certified to produce edibles, they now meet all required guidelines. With the calcium and vitamin amounts previously mentioned, edible seaweed is looking to be the next human super food. Edibles can be used in a variety of ways from sprinkling into soups, stews, potatoes, vegetables and salads, to using as a healthy substitute to salt. The range includes fresh mixed, dried mixed and ground mixed edibles. Margaret personally has 25mls of seaweed daily and finds it extremely beneficial as a way of gaining all the daily vitamins and minerals in a natural form and at a natural level.
All their products can be bought via their website at www.seaweedproducts.co.uk or by contacting the company at Böd Ayre Products, Hamnavoe, Lunnaness, Vidlin, ZE2 9QF, Tel/Fax: 01806 577 328.