Kelp farming is about to explode in Alaska, and a pioneering Juneau company wants the superfood to be your new favorite snack.
Matt Kern and Lia Heifetz are the masterminds behind Barnacle Foods, a new company based out of the state capital, Juneau. Both dedicated foragers and lovers of eating local, their passion led them to begin working with one of the more bountiful crops in a state known for its short, land-based growing season—kelp, pulled straight from the ocean, and widely available across the tens of thousands of miles of largely-pristine Alaskan coastline.
Kern and Heifetz, who sustainably harvest their kelp out of the waters around Juneau, are early adopters on a scene that looks like it's about to go big—recent legislation has paved the way for kelp to be commercially farmed in the state, and enthusiasm is building. It grows fast, it's a superfood, eating healthy has never been hotter—in Alaska and beyond, kelp might just be the next big deal.
"What makes it incredible, is that it's composed of everything the sea has in it," says Kern. "Diverse minerals, vitamins, that you can really only find from the ocean."
It also, says Kern, tastes really good.
"With those diverse salts, you get a lot richer, more savory flavor, these umami-rich minerals."
Umami was the first word that came to mind for most of us here, in an informal sampling of the company's kelp salsa, as well as its kelp dill pickles—Kern and Heifetz chose to go the snack-y route, in order to make kelp a bit more accessible to first-time samplers.
It seems have been a smart move—nobody here could recall the last time they ate kelp, or even knew what to expect; even the more hesitant tasters who tried the pickles found them most agreeable. The underlying richness was the biggest surprise, and while you might expect a faceful of brine, these pickles turned out nuanced, almost delicate; you know you're eating seaweed, but nobody could detect the usual seaweed notes.
Barnacle's Campfire salsa was equally popular—smoky, garlicky and once again surprisingly rich, it went great with simple pita chips; one taster, however, wished they had some pasta to go with it, another noted that the salsa tasted almost like a good puttanesca, with the kelp adding that richness that you'd get from olives, or the saltiness from capers. Our only regret? We didn't have their salsa verde on hand to sample, or their curry pickles. That's okay, because both are just a few clicks away—Barnacle sells their range of products online, and ships to all fifty states.