Coastal communities benefit from seaweed food products created by UFV nutritionists
The research has just won the first prize from the Public Health and Nutrition contest and the second prize in the Science and Food Technology category of the 2014 Henri Nestlé Award.
The solution for the problem of development and sustainability of the coastal communities Rio do Fogo, in the state of Rio Grande do Norte, and Pedrinhas, in the state of Ceará, came from the state of Minas Gerais, more specifically the city of Viçosa. Despite being far from the coast, there is knowledge and technology in Viçosa enough to transform algae into food products. A team from the UFV Graduate Program in Nutrition Science, led by Professor Ana Vládia Bandeira Moreira, studied the algae Gracilaria birdiae and developed recipes using sea foods, thus enriching the cuisine of the region.
The dishes containing algae include strawberry ice cream, fantasia salad, cajá (a tropical fruit from Northeast Brazil) gelatin, stuffed onion bread, rice cake with passion fruit syrup, custard, bobó (a typical dish prepared with shrimp and cassava) with algae, pancakes, refreshing dessert and lucky gnocchi. This mouthwatering menu was developed to meet the needs of coastal communities. Moreover, it was prepared with the direct participation of mariculture women, who are experts in cultivating and processing sea species.
Professor Moreira declared that algae have high nutritional value and are rich in carotenoids, proteins, dietary fiber, essential fatty acids, vitamins and minerals. The Brazilian coast is a leading world producer of algae. However, the use of algae in foods is still incipient in Brazil, while in Asian countries, including Japan, China and South Korea, algae account for up to 25% of the human diet.
There are many natural reserves of algae in the communities Rio do Fogo and Pedrinhas. At first, algae were extracted from the natural banks for being marketed for the extraction of agar, one of its main components. Agar is a substance widely used by the pharmaceutical and food industry. The activity was not profitable for the women who collected algae and was destroying the natural banks, thus affecting the environmental balance. Therefore, the United Nations Food and Agriculture – FAO trained the women who collected algae in northeastern coast started to grow algae on ferries.
Algae at your table
The efficient cultivation of algae demanded other uses for their production. In 2008, aiming to meet this need, Professor Ana Vládia Bandeira Moreira and her team developed the “Algae at your table” project. First, the algae were chemically characterized and subjected to drying on site and in the laboratory. The graduate student Camila Gonçalves Oliveira Chagas has participated in the research since the beginning. She states that “the project addresses several areas: the development of scientific research, good handling practices, nutrition education, cultivation and development and application of social technology.”
Chagas says that she was very doubtful at first, since the research focused on something very unusual to her. However, the close contact with the women who cultivated algae was essential to clarify many of her doubts and provide the guidelines for the research. The UFV team conduct regular visits to those communities. The graduate student stated: “Here in Minas Gerais, algae are not present in our traditional diet. We know that some kinds of algae are used in Japanese food. However, through the contact with those communities, we saw that laboratory results could be put into practice. We are conducting applied research together with the communities seeking their interests”.
The UFV researchers developed twelve recipes and provided technological knowledge to the communities through workshops. Now, the women working with algae are able to cultivate, collect and process the algae and use them to prepare food. Besides increasing the nutritional value of their diet, the recipes that include algae are generating income for the communities that started to market their food products.
Professor Moreira states that it is rewarding to see those female workers using the technology developed at the university. This wide-range project has also included other lines of research, such as antioxidants and gluten-free food, which is a market trend. Such knowledge has already been conveyed to the communities. “The life story of all these women is very touching. It is rewarding to see teaching being applied. It is possible to experience classes, research and extension altogether”, concludes the UFV researcher.
The “Algae at your table” Project started in the municipalities of Rio do Fogo (RN) and Itapipoca (CE) and has already reached another state. The experience with food based on algae was taken to the Pitiumbu community, in the state of Paraíba, where there is a structured cooperative with potential to share the products they develop. The UFV research encompasses a broader project entitled “Desenvolvimento de Comunidades Costeiras (DCC)” (Development of Coastal Communities), which is the result of a partnership between the Ministry of Fisheries and Aquaculture and FAO, aiming to provide training for fishermen and artisanal cultivators of algae.