Despite what its name might imply, the Dutch Weed Burger won’t get you high. The burger is made from Dutch-grown seaweed, and the entrepreneurs behind it are hoping that it will help kickstart a new type of sustainable agriculture–seagriculture–in the Netherlands.
“We can easily grow a nutrient-dense, protein-rich food in the sea,” says Mark Kulsdom, cofounder of the Dutch Weed Burger. “To do that on land is becoming more of a problem. With raising animals, now we’ve reached a certain level where it’s not sustainable anymore. We can’t sustain the environment, and the environment can’t sustain this industry.”
Because of its unique structure, the proteins in seaweed can serve as a reasonable substitute–at least in terms of nutrition–for meat. “We eat animals for their proteins because meat has the right combination that is very digestible for our bodies, at least up to a certain point,” says Kulsdom. “And of all plants, seaweed is very close to that.”
The patty for the Dutch Weed Burger is made with kombu seaweed mixed with roasted, textured soy to create a meat-like bite. It comes with a bun filled with micro-algae, another good source of protein and other nutrients. The vegan “weed sauce” for the patty is made with Dutch sea lettuce.
It doesn’t taste like a standard burger, but people seem to like it; it’s already being served in 70 restaurants in the Netherlands.
“It tastes like chicken,” Kulsdom says. “And the seaweed has a sort of ocean flavor. We neutralize that taste a little bit. We’re not making it a super strong seaweed taste so that only the diehard seaweed lovers like it. We really tried to reach out to all the people who are not interested in vegetarian food at all.”
The seaweed is grown on a new farm that happened to launch in the Netherlands at the same time as the Dutch Weed Burger. “It’s the first commercially viable seaweed field here,” says Kulsdom. “They put lines in the water that go down a few meters, on which are attached little seaweed plants. They grow very fast. They harvest by hand, and the leaves grow back.”
Some researchers in the Netherlands are looking at opportunities for large-scale seaweed farms farther out at sea. In a study in 2010, researchers from Wageningen University estimated that a giant seaweed farm (180,000 square meters, or about the size of the state of Washington) could supply enough protein for the entire global population.
Like insects, which are also often touted as a potential replacement for meat, seaweed has a long history of popular use in many non-Western diets. But it’s possible seaweed may have a slightly better chance of gaining widespread adoption.
“If there are a lot of people that are hesitant or reluctant to try vegetarian food, I think these people are even more reluctant in trying insects,” says Kulsdom. “The taste of our burger, and the nice juicy bite, can appeal to anyone.”
The company isn’t the only food manufacturer to focus on seaweed. In Maine, Marshall Wharf Brewing Co is using seaweed to brew beer. In San Francisco, Ocean’s Halo is making seaweed-based tortilla chips that are now sold at Whole Foods. The Dutch Weed Burger hopes to eventually join them in the U.S., and expand to other international markets.
“We’re in 70 restaurants now, but we’re aiming for 700 soon,” says Kulsdom. “We really want to propagate a plant-based lifestyle.”