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Seaweed: The climate superfood we should all be eating
(And why we invested in BettaF!sh)
💡 Hey! Starting today, we’re open-sourcing our research for everyone to see. Check out our public Notion database here, starting with Algae.
The magic of seaweed
If we told you there was a magical food that would regenerate oceans and reduce overfishing whilst still keeping fishermen and fisherwomen employed, you might not believe us.
And if we told you it also contained an ingredient that grew more effective at absorbing carbon than land-based plants? You might really think we were bluffing.
But, if you already knew about the power of algae - more specifically seaweed - you probably wouldn’t blink twice. When we came across BettaF!sh we had been researching seaweed for a while. We knew seaweed had the potential to change our plates and our climate, but we didn’t know quite how it would happen.
We invested in BettaF!sh, a Berlin-based company, earlier this year. BettaF!sh create substitute fish using seaweed, which creates a delicious high quality oceanic taste. In fact, BettaF!sh’s alternative to tuna is so good that when we first tasted it we were convinced it was real tuna. This was one of the moments where we started to get very, very excited about BettaF!sh.
But before we tell you about the product - let’s talk about the need. Why does the world need a plant-based alternative to fish? And why exactly has seaweed been termed our ‘secret weapon’ against climate change?
New food systems
It all starts with thinking about food systems. Our global population is predicted to grow from 7.3 billion today to 8.5 billion by just 2030, and demands on our food system are growing exponentially. Although we technically have enough food for everyone alive today, nearly a billion are hungry or malnourished, and any solution that helps ease the pressure on our food supply can have an impact.
Plant-based diets can help, and they are on the rise (Barclays predicted a 1000% increase in the value of the global plant-based food and drink market), but we still continue to farm in ways that aren't sustainable for a growing population.
Going straight to source
Plant-based diets are more sustainable than meat, partly because eating the nutritious legumes and grains that animals feed themselves on reduces land use. But, with rising populations, even the increased conversion of land over to agriculture is driving up emissions. So, why not use the same tactic - going straight to source - but in the oceans? In short this means skipping the fish and eating what fish eat: algae.
Interestingly, this is a nutritious route. The Omega 3 oils that so many associate with fish consumption, actually come from the algae that fish eat. It is the algae that is high in heart-friendly Omega 3’s, as well as being a source of protein and a great source of vitamins and minerals.
In fact, the BBC found that one hectare of a seaweed farm produces more protein than the same amount of land used for cattle. Ronald Osinga, from the Wageningen University in the Netherlands, proposed that if we grew farms of sea lettuce (a form of algae) of 180,000 square kilometres (the size of Washington DC) this could provide enough protein for the entire world! Cultivating seaweed provides a seriously exciting alternative, not just to fish protein, but also to all land grown proteins, yet it is routinely overlooked.
Algae’s climate change superpowers
Harvesting algae doesn’t just open up a new food source, it also supports the world’s battle to reduce carbon emissions.
We often think of trees as the key to carbon removal, but researchers have found that seaweed is in fact the most effective natural way of absorbing carbon emissions from the atmosphere. Wild seaweed alone sequesters about 173 million tons of carbon every year globally, and farmed seaweed could potentially trap another 6.8 million tons of carbon.
Growing seaweed doesn’t require fertilisers either, and it grows more than 30 times faster than land-based plants, all while drawing CO₂ out of the ocean waters. This, in turn, allows the oceans to absorb even more CO₂ from the atmosphere. Kelp specifically can absorb up to 50x more carbon than most land-based plants!
Of course, this absorption stops when the seaweed is harvested - but if left to deteriorate it would simply release the CO₂ back into the atmosphere, so it needs to be “sunk” in the deep ocean, or alternatively harvested for uses like food or biofuels.
BettaF!sh, based in Berlin, are true seaweed experts. We invested in BettaF!sh in April this year, and they have since launched an alternative fish product, TU-NAH, containing no soybeans or wheat and instead based on fava beans and seaweed.
They started by launching their delicious seaweed salads, the Nordic Oceanfruit range, and they are now building a whole new category of foods based on regeneratively cultivated seaweed. In doing so, they also grow the seaweed industry, enabling farmers to switch from fishing to seaweed farming: creating sustainable work that doesn’t threaten fish species’ population.
How does it taste?
Commercialising seaweed, and bringing it to our plates safely, is no easy job. You need to really understand seaweed, and also understand how to make it supremely tasty. Co-founders Deniz and Jacob are perfectly positioned for this challenge. Jacob has extensive experience in the seaweed industry, having made a documentary about seaweed, and Deniz has authored two cookbooks, as well as having extensive experience in the food industry and product development. With their first brand Nordic Oceanfruit, they developed a novel European seaweed supply chain from scratch and launched delicious products in over 600 stores.
They have high ambition to scale seaweed farming, and all the positive social and environmental benefits that come with it, whilst putting their food experience to the test to create the tastiest product out there.
We believe there is an unexplored food ecosystem in the ocean right now, and the world is just beginning to wake up to its nutritional, social and environmental benefits. Seaweed has the ability to truly change the way we eat, and BettaF!sh are at the frontier of developing products with taste and sustainability at the core. Replacing tuna is just one goal in their vision to restructure food production systems.
The more we read, the more we see the potential the ocean has for providing nutritious, protein-rich food for millions on earth. BettaF!sh are looking to truly democratise seaweed, and recently launched three options of 100% plant-based TU-NAH sandwiches in more than 4,000 Aldi stores across Germany. Their next products - TU-NAH pizzas, cans and spreads - will hit stores in 2022. If you want to help remove carbon, reduce overfishing and give people a great tasting meal - check out their open roles.
🌟 P.S. BettaF!sh are hiring!
💡 Hungry for more seaweed? Starting today, we're opening up our research and kicking things off with a deep dive on the world of algae. Check out our public Notion database here.