A group of Madrid-based researchers are undergoing a series of experiments to test how replacing some of the fat content of meat products with seaweed might change the taste, smell and texture of your food. (Hopefully "slimy" isn't a common result.)
It's all part of an effort to make diets that are rich in red meat healthier around the world. Their first targets: hamburgers and hot dogs, reports NPR.
So far researchers are only testing three common species of seaweed: sea spaghetti, wakame and nori. All three are already popular in European and Asian cuisine, but the idea here is to mask the taste of the seaweed as much as possible, so as not to change the flavor and experience of eating a beef patty or hot dog.
It's an effort that's sure to rub some connoisseurs of these quintessential American foods the wrong way, but the hope is that consumers will hardly notice a difference.
The early results have been more encouraging for hot dogs, partly because they're already stuffed with a wide variety of flavorful (and occasionally mysterious) ingredients. Sea spaghetti and wakame have milder flavors, so they have been easier to sprinkle into the meats without detection. But nori, which is the stuff your sushi comes wrapped in, has fared less favorably in taste tests. It also has a dark color, and changes the coloring of the meat.
The reason that seaweed is the supplement of choice is because it can be so highly nutritious. Vitamin and mineral content is often much higher than it is in land-dwelling vegetables, and seaweed has a fair amount of protein as well.
The research offers an interesting contrast to the philosophy often heralded by public health campaigns that aim to get people to eat healthier. Most of the time, these programs recommend eating fewer unhealthy foods, rather than infusing those unhealthy foods with more nutritious ingredients. But getting people to give up their comfort foods is a tall order. So researchers hope their seaweed-infused meats might offer a more realistic solution.
"It's an interesting concept," said Sarah Johnson, director of the Functional Foods and Human Health Laboratory at Colorado State University, who wasn't involved in the research. "I think that there could definitely be a niche for this."