Raising cattle takes a lot of land and feed–plus there’s all that cow flatulence, which contribute heavily to global warming. So a new food production company has created an alternative, a faux meat snack that’s animal-free and environmentally friendly: sustainably farmed kelp jerky.
The product, created by a food startup called Beyond the Shoreline, is available three flavors: Sea Salt, BBQ, and High Thai’d, with coconut and turmeric. It debuted at New York’s Fancy Food Show in June, shared samples at a recent Food Tech event for rethinking consumer package goods, and recently won a judge’s choice award at FoodBytes! and Austin-based food-tech festival that introduces emerging companies to would-be investors. In September, Beyond The Shoreline raised over $10,000 on the food and beverage crowd-funding platform Pie Shell, in order to buy its first bulk harvests and outfit a food lab in the East Village.
The company expects to sell the first 1.5 ounce bags, retailing at $3.99 each, direct to consumers through its website this January, followed by another crowdfunding push to expand national distribution through places like Amazon, Thrive Market, and a network of specialty food retailers in New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. It’s already earned one solid celebrity endorsement. “I was prepared to come up with a nice response after eating this, but actually, it’s really rather delightful,” says early taste-tester Richard Branson in a review that’s posted on their website.
Cofounder Courtney Boyd Myers came up with the idea after working as an advisor for GreenWave, a nonprofit that coverts underemployed fisherman into restorative ocean farmers in early 2016. That work can take two forms, with groups using kelp to suck carbon dioxide and nitrogen from heavily polluted waters, or, in more pristine areas, to grow a new food source.
“These ocean farms have massive potential both in the sense of what they are growing, but also for their climate mitigating factors,” Boyd Myers says. “Seaweed sucks five times more carbon out of the water than land-based plants do out of the air. The farms act as artificial reefs for hundreds of species that have now returned to the shorelines, and they also act as storm surge protectors breaking up waves before they hit the beach.”
Traditionally kelp has been used for beauty products, fertilizer, and animal feed, but Boyd Myers foresaw a tastier potential. GreenWave was already distributing to enterprising chefs seeking the next new superfood for their restaurants. By her estimate, the plant-based meat market will be worth $5 billion by 2020 and so-called “sea greens” are expected to account for 15% or $750 million of that within the next two years. So a lightweight, easy to ship, shelf-stable product seemed like an obvious choice. Not that a lot of refinement was needed. “I was eating it right out of the ocean,” she says.
Kelp is nutritionally rich in vitamins, minerals, and calcium. It’s also probably not palatable to everyone in raw form. To solve that, Boyd Myers enlisted the help of another cofounder, William Horowitz, the co-owner of Harry & Ida’s Meat and Supply Co., and Duck’s Eatery, a New York deli and restaurant, respectively, both known for their experimental takes on food.
Kelp is naturally high in protein. But to make its jerky more appealing to meat lovers, Horowitz ups that count by adding pea protein and shiitake and cremini mushroom stems left over by mushroom harvesters, which stops food waste and boosts the umami factor. The kelp snacks end up with between 7 and 10 grams of protein per serving, compared to about 9 to 12 grams for many beef versions. The company currently sources raw kelp from two farms, one in New Haven, Connecticut, and another in Portland, Maine.
The kelp growing season lasts from November to May, after which farmers harvest a portion of their underwater plantings. What comes out of the water gets blanched, noodled in a calamari cutter, and then finely mixed and blended with other ingredients before being extruded into strips to be dehydrated. When managed correctly, one good harvest should lead to another. “It’s called the bamboo of the sea because every year it actually yields exponential returns for the farmers,” Boyd Myers says. “It’s a really amazing crop like that. The nutrients that the kelp leaves in the water means that it grows faster and bigger the following year.”
If demand increases the way she expects, that’s definitely a good thing.
Correction: We’ve updated this article to reflect the correct spelling of Courtney Boyd Myers last name.