Scientists Just Discovered a Natural Source of Vegan Bacon

Thank the kale gods, because Oregon State University researchers have discovered a seaweed that tastes just like bacon. Yep, you read that right: pork-flavored algae with none of the squeal.

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Jul 15 2015, 3:00pm

Were you to offer a red-blooded, machismo-fueled American man a plate of seaweed in place of his daily pile of bacon, he might very well slap you in your pinko vegan face.

"Don't tread on my cured pork belly," he'd say, making some vague dick-swinging argument about Nick Offerman and bald eagles and his god-given right to swine flesh.

But thank whatever infernal kale gods those hackey-sack-kicking, ashram-dwelling vegans worship, because Oregon State University (OSU) researchers have discovered a seaweed that tastes just like bacon.

Yep, you read that right: pork-flavored algae with none of the squeal.

The seaweed in question is a particular strain of dulse, which has been popular for over a millennium for its rich, savory flavor. In its standard form, dulse (a.k.a. dillisk) has an umami quality, thanks to the presence of glutamic acid. (That'd be the "G" in MSG, which is also found in kombu and other seaweeds.) It also happens to be chock-full of vitamins, minerals, and protein—one of the reasons that it's been a hippie health food favorite for decades.

READ: Rejoice, Vegans—You've Now Got Your Own Bacon Grease

But back to the bacon. According to The Oregonian, It all started 15 years ago when OSU professor Chris Langon developed a fast-growing strain of dulse to feed abalone. The idea was to develop a plant that could convert the ammonia and CO2 produced by the sea snails into protein, before becoming snail food itself.

Langdon ended his abalone project a while back, but he kept on growing the dulse. And much to his surprise, he discovered that when fried or smoked, his dulse tasted just like bacon.

READ: California Abalone Are as Delicious as They Are Creepy

Beyond its highly desirable flavor, the seaweed has huge potential because of how quickly it grows. Michael Morrissey, the director of OSU's Food Innovation Center, told The Oregonian that the dulse could sell for around $60 per pound.

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Jason Bell working with the new dulse strain. Photo courtesy of OSU/Stephen Ward.

On top of that, the Oregon Department of Agriculture approved a grant for OSU researchers to investigate potential food applications. Those researchers contacted Jason Ball, a former intern at René Redzepi's Nordic Food Lab (NFL), who has experience working with a variety of seaweeds.

While the seaweeds used by NFL in Copenhagen are always foraged, the bacon dulse is farmed. That not only prevents damage to fragile intertidal ecosystems, but also ensures a consistent product to play with. Ball experimented with using the bacon seaweed in instant ramen, veggie burgers, trail mix, salt substitutes, and even beer.

The first commercial product to incorporate the dulse, however, will be a salad dressing. (We know what you're thinking: Someone discovered vegan bacon and is turning into salad dressing?!) The researchers also reportedly plan to use the seaweed as a flavor enhancer in rice crackers and peanut popcorn brittle.

But all by itself, the dulse could stand in for good ol' pork belly. "Pan-fried," Ball said in an OSU statement, "dulse can be light and crispy with a savory saltiness, like bacon."

Now all the researchers have to do is convince heat-packing 'Muricans to cook seaweed on the barrels of their guns instead of swine.