Rachel Mirfattahi: Seaweed, rapeseed oil and Honey Berries in the Scottish food mix for 2018

Here in Scotland we have a wonderful larder and could go through the day enjoying the crème de la crème; from porridge with berries and heather honey, to salmon or trout with seasonal vegetables, and venison or beef with red, white or blue potatoes! All washed down with some marvellous home-grown tea, craft beer, gin or whisky. 

In 2017 we saw the unloved cauliflower and courgettes steaming through in popularity and small innovative starts ups challenging the big brands. Technology is helping businesses reach consumers in so many ways, from social media to virtual reality, and communicating with them about the products, provenance and their identity as an integral part of the consumer experience.

We are an island nation surrounded by sea and what better ingredient to be the focus of research and innovation than seaweed? Around the world it has been used in everything from cosmetics to snacks and even reached main stream foods in the form of seaweed tagliatelle and seaweed bacon.  

Figures for global seaweed production, according to the UK government, are that it has more than doubled between 2000 and 2014, ranging from 10 to 28 million tonnes of seaweed, which is worth £4.33 billion. According to the World bank, the annual global seaweed production is estimated to reach 500 million dry tons by 2050, which increases world’s food supply by 10%.

Research continues in Scotland into its effect on weight management and anti-inflammatory properties and into how it can combat iodine deficiency – a problem in diets which exclude natural sources of this vital nutrient. 

Changes are often driven by customers and I have been supporting the food and drink industry to innovate products that meet the needs of health and ethical conscious consumers: from meat-free alternatives for vegans, chocolate that is good for the brain and soft drinks containing less sugar, to comply with the Soft Drinks Industry Levy coming into effect in April, all of which reinforces the Scottish Government’s Good Food Nation policy.  

The success story of Scottish Rapeseed Oil will be celebrated this year with 10 years of production by six businesses, including Black and Gold in East Lothian, and Supernature in Mid Lothian.

The UK retail rapeseed oil market is worth around £18m which is 5% of the UK oils market.

The group partnered with academics to find out more about the oil’s nutritional attributes and unique taste. It has gone from being the “new kid on the block” to a staple ingredient in many kitchens. 

We will also start to hear more about the honeyberry; fruit of the honeysuckle plant known for its high nutrient and vitamin profile. The first honeyberry orchard has been successfully planted in Scotland and a cooperative of farmers are working in conjunction with James Hutton Institute on developing the highest quality honeyberries and honeyberry products. In fact, a Honeyberry Gin is already on the market. 

The gin renaissance has seen some unique and wonderful flavours emerge. Early on in the revival, the Heriot-Watt University International Centre for Brewing and Distilling, along with Interface and the Scottish Craft Distillers Association, produced a reference library of botanicals grown in Scotland as a resource for developing new products, which has helped many distillers achieve exciting new flavour combinations. 

2018 will also be a time for embracing innovative reformulation for health or sustainability reasons, not just for manufacturers, but restaurants, cafes, take-aways and in the home too.  

Look out for our reformulation event later this year – it is sure to bring new ideas to the table and offer inspiration from different academic disciplines and producers. 

Rachel Mirfattahi is a Sector Engagement Executive – Food & Drink at Interface, and Make Innovation Happen connector

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