28 February 2022, UK: Agar, a jelly-like substance obtained from the cell walls of some species of red algae, is used in food production as a gelling and thickening agent, but it is not currently produced in the UK and has a large carbon footprint. An innovative research project led by the James Hutton Institute and Caledonian Seaweeds Ltd is examining the potential of Scottish seaweeds as a source of agar for the food industry, with added benefits for local and rural economies and maximising biomass use.
The project, funded by the Scottish Food and Drink Net Zero Challenge Fund and part of a £160k tranche of funding awarded to Scottish sustainable food and drink businesses, aims to confirm that red seaweed species prevalent on the west coast of Scotland are producers of agar that can match the strict requirements of the food industry.
Dr Gordon McDougall, a senior scientist at the James Hutton Institute and lead investigator of the project, said the project builds upon a body of research on seaweeds at the Institute.
“We are delighted to be involved in this exciting project. It will allow us to combine our experience in multi-component extraction from seaweeds and in polysaccharide chemistry to develop new methods that provide good agar yield whilst maximising value through extracting other components from the seaweeds,” Dr McDougall explained.
Duncan Smallman, from commercial project partner Caledonian Seaweeds Ltd, commented: “This project is the start of realising an idea that we’ve had for a few years, and we are very excited to be working with the James Hutton Institute.
“Caledonian Seaweeds are looking to diversify the Scottish seaweed industry and Scottish agar is a prime place to start.
“With the support from Seaweed Generation, we are combining our expertise agar producing seaweeds that could be cultivated in Scotland in a scalable, environmentally and socio-economically viable fashion to fit within a more circular low carbon economy.”