What’s really happening to food and do we have the executives to cope with massive change?
Are we about to transition into a new epoch?
With so much hot air being expended on climate change (see what I did there?) food insecurity, potential shortages, Chinese demand and other factors we need to consider other food sources. I don’t necessarily think this is a negative because it keeps the spirit of exploration and experiment alive.
So in this article one ingredient I wish to investigate briefly is the Lichen. Please note it’s plant-based and that is bang on trend with the massive interest in veganism right now.
There are fewer toxic lichens than mushrooms, apparently.
This is probably something that was studied in biology for one lesson and apart from noticing it on walls and bark many of us are dismissive. However, it is just the right time to review our attitude and approach to lichens.
Did you know they are related to algae but belong on shore not in the sea? Although it has to be said that some need salt water to survive. They have been around since the beginning of time and in fact some of the lichens we observe in the landscape are super pensioners. They thrive on rock stacks and cliffs where they are likely to be left alone to get on with the business of growing.
What also makes lichens very interesting is that they are dual organisms. Part of their structure is fungus and the other part is cyanobacterium. The fungus provides the algae with structure, protection, nutrients, and water. This is usually absorbed from the atmosphere and soil, rotten logs, tree branches and even minerals. To pay back the algae provides carbohydrates from photosynthesis to the fungus.
So what draws the attention of foodies, chefs and the food industry?
Fancy a bowl of lichen ramen?
Lichens in themselves are not great tasters. You need to go for the lichens that truly look plant-like as the yellow and browny coloured varieties are usually toxic. However once the leaves are boiled interesting things start to happen. The first step is to soak them in an acid like vinegar. This helps to divest the lichen of all the bits and pieces they’ve picked up on their long growing journey. Then like salt cod it needs all kinds of water refreshes. You need to soak the lichen for about 6 hours each time - a pain perhaps, but not difficult if you simply class it as part of a routine. The test is: when the bitterness no longer remains, it’s ready for the next stage. Boil the leaves for ten minutes, then transfer immediately into iced water. Voila, your ingredient is ready. However, if you keep boiling the leaves in plenty of water changes you’ll get a gooey substance that is brilliant for soups or as a thickening agent. Trust me on that one!
So, how might you use this super food?
You could make lichen ramen soup for example. But bearing in mind lichens are so plentiful no doubt food processing techniques will be developed to extract the very most from these critters.
What this proves is the food industry is looking for sustainable options right across the food spectrum.
From eco-conscious packaging experts to gut healthy foods, modern mushrooms to next level textures new sensations and responsibilities abound. This means it is an industry looking for creative, experimenters with curiosity and open-minds. It seems that a new breed of food industry executives are required and it will take the right recruiter to winkle them out.
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