Marine biologist, Dr Craig Rose (aka Dr Seaweed) (above right) was nearly a Kaiser Chief. “I went to school with Ricky Wilson (above left) — who is still a good friend — and we used to play in bands together. I went off to uni while he carried on playing music and founded the Kaiser Chiefs.”
Wilson is now the front man of the indie rock band, BBC Radio 2 presenter and former judge on The Voice, while Rose has made his mark as a marine biologist currently carrying out research at Newcastle University around the use of seaweed in blood sugar management. He has also founded a business selling seaweed extract for health supplements and in culinary oils.
“Seaweed naturally inhibits the enzymes in the blood that break down carbohydrates so the sugar is released more slowly. We stay fuller for longer” he explains.
It’s also packed with minerals “A great number of women are iodine deficient — 76% of school age girls are deficient and 66% of women are too” he explains. “You get iodine from fish and dairy but with the rise of plant based diet, the only natural (vegan) source of iodine is seaweed.” He tells me that we need iodine for thyroid function, and both skin and brain health.
It’s sustainable and also delivers a hefty dose of calcium, potassium and iron. Dr Rose, who grew up in Leeds, but now lives in Whitley Bay, sources his seaweed from sea lochs in the Outer Hebrides.
The species he uses has the Harry Potter-esque name, ‘knotted wrack’. “It’s the type with the nobbly, poppy bits you see on the beach. I work with two guys who harvest it from around the Isles of Lewis and Harris. The Queen owns the sea beds so you need a licence to harvest there. The water is really clean up there and there are miles and miles of coastline where it grows.”
The harvesters use machines — essentially floating lawn mowers — which trim a foot or so off the tops of the plants at high tide. It takes two to four years for the weed to grow back but as it can take several months for the harvesters to work one sea loch there is plenty available. “They can take 20 tonnes of seaweed off on a good day,” says Rose.
It’s then sent to Stornaway for processing. “It’s dried and milled and turned into supplements and essences that I then use in culinary oils.”
He admits that he chose to obtain the kosher certification for his oils (from the London Beth Din) partly to please his parents, but says it has been useful for sales. “A hechsher turns people’s heads . It’s like a sign of quality, even if the customer isn’t interested in it from a religious point of view.”
The seaweed essence is added to rapeseed oil and sold under his brand Weed and Wonderful. He suggests using the oils — like extra virgin olive oil — as a condiment over salads or in soups or even to cook with. The rapeseed oil means they have a high smoke point and are safe to cook with, unlike many other so-called healthy oils, which deteriorate when heated.
“We do a smoked seaweed version that’s great in scrambled eggs or over roasted vegetables, and we used it to fry our latkes over Chanukah and they fried up beautifully.”
He also sells the milled, dried seaweed to food manufacturers to use in their products. “We supply seaweed for MeToo kosher seaweed hummus; Marks and Spencer’s seaweed mayonnaise and in a range of crackers and biscuits made by Stag biscuits.”
It’s currently fashionable with foodies, with Jamie Oliver and Jimmy Doherty proclaiming themselves fans: “They recently filmed a programme about Scottish seaweed and described it as a phenomenal resource around the British Isles.”
Rock star, Wilson, has also invested in Dr Rose’s enterprise. He gave it airtime when he baked up smoked seaweed scones on Celebrity GBBO that were a hit with Paul Hollywood.
It’s all kosher, so perhaps this is the year to get into weed.