The chef of the sea Angel León has managed to cultivate the eelgrass, a new marine cereal with valuable nutritional properties that, in addition, could improve the state of the sea.

Surely you have ever come to the beach and you have seen it full of greenish leaves that looked like algae and gave the bath water a cloudy tone. These greenish accumulations are known as banquettes and are not algae but plants. Nor are they a sign that the water is dirty, but the other way around. They tell us that we surely have a meadow of sea grass and other marine plants nearby that favors the cleanliness of the water and contributes to marine biodiversity.

The Seri Indians, from Sonora, in Mexico, knew it and took advantage of it when the waves brought that vegetation to the shore to collect small grains, which they consumed as cereal.

The chef Angel León, in charge of the award-winning Aponiente restaurant in the bay of Cádiz, came across this information in a North American magazine from the 1970s after locating, in one of his marine expeditions, the plant from which the grain was extracted.

It is the sea grass. After three years of testing and analysis, Angel León is not only convinced of the great culinary possibilities of this curious marine plant but also that we are facing a new marine cereal, with a promising future as a sustainable and healthy food.

WHAT IS THE SEAGRASS?

The sea grass is an aquatic grass. The new marine cereal discovered by Angel León is the seed of this plant, which could become the new “rice of the sea”.

 

It belongs to the phanerogams, a group of plants with a fascinating history. When life was formed on the planet, plants were born in the sea, but with evolution many were moving to the mainland and adapting to new living conditions. However, it is believed that some, at some point, managed to return to the sea. This is the case of these plants, of which there are only four species in Europe, all of them wild.

One of them is the sea grass. Now, although this aquatic grass is born in the sea and feeds exclusively on salt water, it continues to reproduce wildly by flowers and seeds.

From the Aponiente Gastronomic Research Laboratory, Chef Angel León has observed and investigated for more than a decade the possibilities of new foods and products from the sea to be incorporated into human nutrition. He is known as Chef del Mar and his team has been awarded three Michelin stars and a green star in recognition of his work to improve sustainability. His concern has led him to bet now on this surprising and promising marine cereal, which he has even managed to grow sustainably.

The populations of sea grass are in clear decline and it is considered a threatened species, so the possibility of cultivating it in a sustainable way opens the way to a new way of contributing to the recovery of a valuable resource for marine and coastal biodiversity .

 

A SUPERFOOD FROM THE SEA

One of the things that makes this marine seed so special is that it can be considered a new cereal, with many possibilities in the kitchen. All its culinary applications are unknown for now, as being a threatened species, only preliminary tests have been carried out while waiting to consolidate its cultivation, but it has been proven that it can give very good results if it is used as rice or pasta.

But it is also especially interesting for its nutritional richness. The scientific research team specialized in marine vegetables led by Angel León has analyzed the composition of this marine cereal, which has been compared with that of other common cereals such as barley, wheat, oats, corn or rice.

PROPERTIES OF MARINE CEREAL

Like other cereals, the eelgrass provides abundant energy in the form of carbohydrates (83.5 g), more than half of which are starch, and a good percentage of protein (10 g per 100 g), slightly more than brown rice (8 g) but slightly less than quinoa (14 g).

Its proteins contain good levels of lysine, the amino acid normally lacking in cereals, and good doses of tryptophan. It is also accompanied by a small dose of healthy fats (2.9 g), mainly vegetable omega-3 and omega-6, a profile that we do not find in ground cereals. And it provides minerals and vitamins A and E.

WHAT DOES THE ZOSTERA TASTE LIKE?

Although it looks quite similar to rice, in flavor the zoster slightly resembles quinoa according to the Aponiente team. However, it has a slightly more iodized and slightly saline vegetable flavor.

The texture is denser, closer to that of a legume, and can be used with its thin shell, like brown rice.

A SUSTAINABLE CROP AND GENERATOR OF ECOLOGICAL WEALTH

Until now, the sea grass had grown only in the wild and is under Special Protection, since it is basic for the ecosystem but is disappearing from places where it was abundant as a result of human activity. Angel León’s team, in which the biologist Juan Martín also collaborates, has managed to cultivate it for the first time in a controlled way, without the need for pesticides, fertilizers or fertilizers.

It has done so in 3,000 hectares of the Bahía de Cádiz Natural Park. Not only has it shown that it is a crop with high productivity with hardly any technical requirements, but it has also valued its benefits for the environment.

Marine grain creates habitats of high biological value. Grasshopper meadows are effective carbon sinks that help combat climate change, fix blue carbon, and generate oxygen. In addition, they mitigate the effect of the tides and prevent underwater erosion.

Despite the importance of these ecosystems, from Aponiente they argue that carrying out reforestation projects is very difficult because there are no nurseries that can supply plants or seeds, which is why they have proposed, within the project, to create a seed bank to starting from their crops to repopulate coastal wetlands and be able to restore them.

It may take time to taste this cereal, but with its discovery and cultivation we can celebrate the vision of a project that combines a passion for healthy food with sustainability and the search for ways to preserve and even improve the biodiversity of our seas and coasts.

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