WELCOME to Warrnambool — a picturesque seaside city where people eat the stuff that washes up on the sand.
Well, not yet perhaps. But a Warrnambool academic has embarked on a campaign to get seaweed on to south-west plates.
It may be no favourite here, but in other parts of the world people love it and globally seaweed is a $7 billion industry.
And the south-west is home to more species of seaweed than most parts of the world.
Which is why a trial to taste-test various species will start in the coming months to see which types could make it on to a menu.
Volunteers with a sturdy stomach are being sought — but not just anybody.
Researchers want about 100 people who have eaten seaweed before to become critics of the salty delicacy.
“Global fish stocks are in crisis. Seaweed is a sustainable food source,” Deakin University marine biologist Dr Alecia Bellgrove said yesterday.
If the waters of Lady Bay do yield something delicious there are opportunities to ship it somewhere it is already in demand by diners.
“There’s enough potential, we have more seaweeds than anywhere else in the world,” Dr Bellgrove said.
One of the places where there could be a market is Warrnambool’s Japanese sister city of Miura.
One of the founders of the inter-city relationship with Miura, David McKenzie, has spent the best part of 30 years travelling back and forth between the two countries.
“It’s a staple diet, they serve it with just about everything,” Mr McKenzie said. “But it’s an acquired taste.”
While there might be a good chance at offloading some of Warrnambool’s version of a sea salad to restaurants in Melbourne and Geelong, he said Korea supplied most of the Asian market with seaweed and seagrass.
Dr Bellgrove said harvesting the ocean crops would also help to absorb carbon from the atmosphere.
To most Westerners, seaweed is one of the least appealing parts of a beach visit, generally considered to be the slimy ocean equivalent of a garden weed.
But its potential as a food is vast: spice it up, cook it Japanese-style or have it on the side of a chicken parmigiana — the choice is yours. Its unflattering appearance aside, seaweed apparently tastes OK — and it’s also good for you.
“Seaweed has great nutritional benefits,” Dr Bellgrove said. “It lowers obesity, heart disease, blood pressure and diabetes.” Seaweed is one of the richest sources of Omega-3 — better known as fish oil.
“We’re exploring a range of seaweeds to see what’s edible,” Dr Bellgrove said.
“We’ll adapt them to traditional recipes.”
Almost all the seaweed now consumed in Australia is imported from overseas.
“There’s a small amount of kelp being harvested from Tasmania,” she said.
But the type is Japanese kelp, an introduced species and marine pest.