James Ashmore, founder of Tasmania’s Ashmore Foods, says chefs across the country have a growing appetite for seaweed, and are thinking outside the box when it comes to preparation and plating.
Kai Ho ‘Ocean Treasure’ was launched by Ashmore, together with Dr Craig Sanderson, as a means of cultivating seaweed and making it more accessible to Australia’s foodservice industry.
At this stage, the company only harvests introduced species, but would like to grow native species in the future.
“We currently only have permits to work on the introduced varieties, but we’re working with the department to sustainably harvest native species. At the same time we’re working with the local hatchery to cultivate natives in an aquaculture form,” Ashmore told Hospitality.
The company is currently handling the Undaria variety, using the leaves/frond (or wakame) and the sporophil (or mekabu).
“Because it’s an introduced species, it’s deemed as a pest. They [the state government] want us to take it; it’s pest eradication,” he said.
Ashmore said Kai Ho would love to be able to farm the plant rather than harvest it in the wild, but this is an unlike scenario.
“Because it’s an introduced species, we’ll never be able to farm this product in Tasmanian waters,” he said. “It’d be far, far more viable. You could do it really well. It may change, but at the moment, there’s no way that you’re ever going to eradicate this plant. It’s not like you’re in a paddock and you can quarantine it. It’s in the ocean, and it can grow so quickly.
“Farming it would be sensible … but it’s like saying you’re going to farm foxes.”
In the meantime, Kai Ho is focusing on producing a top quality fresh frozen and a dried seaweed product for the foodservice market. So far, Ashmore says, the response from chefs has been encouraging.
“It works because it’s organic, local, Tasmanian, hand harvested, it’s pest eradication and totally sustainable … So it ticks all those boxes.
“More and more chefs are taking it on. They’re not intimidated by it now as much as they were in the earlier days. They can see it’s just another product that they can try in different formats – and it’s not expensive; you’re not playing with caviar.”
Ashmore is noticing chefs branching out from the more predictable applications of seaweed and experimenting with different cuisines and flavours.
“They use it in the most amazing forms – deep fried as a crunch garnish, some will grab it in dry form and they’ll dry it even more and make a powder to use as a protein booster. It’s amazing. You’ve got salt concentrate 10 to one, flavour concentrate 10 to one. Put that over a protein – steak or chicken, and it’s great.
“The mekabu is a really good thickening agent, too. It you put it through a stock, it’ll turn a stock to a jus without loss, because you haven’t evaporated everything,” Ashmore said.
For more detail on the Kai Ho products, and other culinary applications of seaweed, check out the video below. You can learn about fellow Tasmanian seafood producers, Huon Aquaculture and Candy Ab, and how they've been contributing to the state's reputation for creating top quality seafood here.
Hospitality visited Kai Ho as a guest of Brand Tasmania.