Akua goes to sea for meat-free "superfood" jerky
Kelp: It's one of the fastest-growing plants on Earth, growing in undersea "forests" that can go on for miles. A single square meter of the algae can be home home to many thousands of invertebrates. And it's also a mineral and vitamin-rich source of food that contains 10 times more calcium than milk – which is perhaps why a new Kickstarter campaign to launch a vegan kelp jerky is hurtling towards its target.
Described by its makers Akua as a "superfood" – a marketing term to be wary of if ever there was one – the jerky contains sugar kelp (Saccharina latissima), mushroom and maple sugar (though less than 1 g per serving, its makers say). It's apparently free of refined sugar, soy, gluten and dairy products. The kelp jerky is described as a protein snack, though any protein is almost certainly from the mushroom in the snack.
That's not to say kelp isn't nutritious. It contains vitamins A, B1, B2, C, D and E, and is a source of the aforementioned calcium, as well as copper, iodine, iron, magnesium, potassium and zinc.
The snack is a play on traditional jerky, which is made from strips of dried lean meat (often beef), which is often salted and flavored. The word jerky in fact comes from a word of the Quechan people of the Andes, ch'arki, which means, well, jerky, basically.
For now, the jerky comes in three flavors: sea salt and sesame with hints of nori, "High Thai'd" (geddit?) with tumeric and coconut, and rosemary "BBQ" with a touch of maple.
Pledges start at US$25 for a variety three-pack, but if you've $1,000 to spare, that amount will snag you a 6-month supply – which amounts to 180 bags, apparently. Fork out a mere $3,000 and you can create your own flavor: pistachiocean, raspberry riptide or tutti frutti di mare perhaps. (Or, you know, beef.) If all goes to plan, shipping is estimated to start in July.
As the world wrestles with the growing issue of sustainable food supply in the face of a growing global population, algae is increasingly seen as part of the solution, along with insect protein and laboratory-grown meat.
Kelp's rapid growth of up to half a meter (1.6 ft) per day makes it a compelling candidate. It's also convenient to harvest, growing in shallow coastal waters where it can be dredged by small boats. This product in itself may not be world-changing, but products like this could gradually shift our tastes and perceptions as to our go-to daily foods.
Akua dreamed up the snack with the help of co-founder and New York chef Will Horowitz. It sources its kelp from ocean forms off the coast of New England and produces the jerky in a kitchen in New York's East Village.
We've asked Akua for more detailed ingredients, and will update this article if we hear more. In the meantime apparently none other than Virgin's Richard Branson has praised the snack, describing it as "incredibly delicious," so what more is there to say, really?
The pitch video below overviews the Kelp Jerky project.
UPDATE: Akua has followed up with us to let us know the kelp jerky contains kelp, mushroom, chickpea flour, yeast, maple, and pea protein, as well as small amounts of coco amino, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, and kosher salt. Other are flavor-specific toppings. Sea salt sesame flavor has sesame seeds and nori. "High Thai'd" has turmeric, ginger, chilli, and coconut; BBQ includes rosemary, tomato, smoked chilis, and paprika; and rosemary BBQ flavor has rosemary, tomato, smoked chilis, and paprika.