Seaweed burgers: a new product aims to reduce the meat in burgers while improving their taste

Game Changers: A plant in Co Donegal dries seaweed to produce flakes of SeaMeat, which can replace 25% of meat in a burger

Game Changers column

We know that reducing the amount of meat we eat will help tackle the climate and biodiversity crises. What if we could farm a product to replace some of the meat in a burger and make it taste better? Step forward SeaMeat, a product being farmed and processed in Donegal by TSC Green Turtle, part of Dutch conglomerate, The Seaweed Company. The head of TSC Green Turtle, Lorraine Gallagher, spent her childhood on the water in Mulroy Bay, working with the aquaculture operators around the bay. “I’ve such fond memories, putting shellfish collectors into the water to collect scallops and seeing lots of amazing creatures attached to them,” she says.

She studied business and then studied human nutrition biochemistry, looking at seafood innovation and the value of seaweed from a health point of view. As part of a varied career she also worked as a seafood buyer for Aldi. Then in 2014 she applied for a seaweed licence to begin seaweed farming. Five years later they were granted the licence to farm 24 hectares. Every October 30km of lines are seeded with organic alaria seaweed. Feeding on the nutrients in the water, the alaria grows from seed to long fronds in six months so by April a team of skilled harvesters can harvest more than 100 tonnes of wet seaweed from the bay. The bay has full organic status and what Gallagher describes as “class A” waters. Her seaweed farm is also part of a European project showing how aquaculture can work together with mussel, oyster and fish farms.

The next challenge is to create the market for this healthy sustainable food. “We don’t have a culture of eating seaweed,” says Gallagher. This month they opened a new processing plant in Downings. The plant will dry the seaweed to produce flakes of SeaMeat, which can replace 25 per cent of the meat in a burger while enhancing the flavour and health benefits. Gallagher is in close discussion with major retailers in Ireland, and SeaMeat burgers are already available in Europe. “When you add it to beef you get a really lovely texture as well as flavour. What we’re going for is that sense of ‘There’s something great there’,” without people necessarily knowing it’s seaweed. Adding it to burgers enhances their look and increases the shelf life by a day. It also works well with pork and chicken, says Gallagher.

“We’ve tested it with sensory panels and people say it really increases the flavour,” says Gallagher. This year’s harvest has the potential to replace 25 per cent of the meat in millions of burgers. The flexitarian eater is their prime consumer segment. As farmers struggle to get animals and crops into waterlogged fields, seaweed farming also looks like a more climate resilient piece of the food production jigsaw.

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