When it comes to faux bacon, it’s not just about taste. People want the bacon to be as authentic as possible including the sizzling fat. Now a Bay Area California startup has introduced a vegan bacon that is made from seaweed that tastes delicious and has a crispy bacon appearance.
Umaro Foods CEO and co-founder Beth Zotter told Fast Company that it is the seaweed that makes it so authentic. But she didn’t set out to create a vegan bacon product. The key ingredient was actually intended for another use, reported Fast Company.
From biofuel to bacon
Zotter actually began working with kelp around ten years ago at another company that was trying to develop a biofuel that could compete with fossil fuels. This led to her thinking about other uses for seaweed.
“I knew that I wanted to do something commercial, and that biofuel was not going to be commercially viable anytime soon,” Zotter said. “This is about the same time that the alternative protein movement was really taking off, and Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods were becoming household names. The idea occurred to me then…what if seaweed could be a protein source?”
Using kelp as food comes with some powerful benefits. Since it is grown in the sea, kelp produces five times the protein as land-grown greens. But changing kelp into bacon required the aid of aquaculture engineering experts from the University of New Hampshire and engineers from the San Francisco-based company Otherlab to develop the agricultural equipment that would collect the seaweed. Zotter also partnered with Amanda Stiles, a plant biochemist with experience in plant-based food.
How it’s made
Extracting the protein wasn’t difficult but coming up with the right texture and flavor was harder. Umaro food partnered with the food innovation lab at Oregon State University to come up with the recipe for the new product. While the exact recipe is a secret, it contains red seaweed, chickpeas, coconut, and sunflower oil, plus seasonings and other plant-based ingredients.
“People often ask us what makes Umaro stand out from other plant-based bacon alternatives,” Zotter told VegNews. “While our technology is certainly unique, the taste, and fatty texture that consumers [now] have the chance to experience for themselves really puts Umaro bacon in a field of its own.”
The startup’s launch of the vegan bacon follows a bidding war for investing in the company. That’s because Zotter and Stiles appeared on the ABC investment reality show Shark Tank, reported VegNews. One of the investors was Mark Cuban who has already invested in numerous vegan companies.
Umaro Foods launched the vegan bacon in the spring of 2022, and it was first served at San Francisco’s Michelin-starred fine-dining restaurant Sorrel, Nashville’s bakery D’Andrews, and New York’s Egg Shop. There are now a few dozen restaurants serving the vegan bacon and the company is now working on scaling up production, according to Fast Company.
Once the automated equipment is up and running, Zotter believes that the startups bacon will be cheaper than the real thing. And that’s nothing to squeal about.
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