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Umaro Is on C&E News’ Radar

From C&E News.

Umaro Foods turns seaweed into bacon

There’s nothing quite like a crispy piece of bacon. But the pork industry releases more greenhouse gases than the entire country of Germany each year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. While some companies make plant-based bacon, the start-up Umaro Foods says existing products lack the key characteristic that makes bacon delicious: crispiness.

Umaro Foods’ bacon is in 140 restaurants around the US, including more than a dozen bodegas in New York City.

Umaro says it’s making a better bacon substitute out of seaweed. The company extracts a hydrocolloid gel and protein from red seaweed and recombines them to make its product. The hydrocolloid gel is infused into a dough of the protein mixed with sunflower and coconut oil. The gel traps the oil in tiny pockets, which allows the liquid vegetable oils to perform like solid fat found in meat. CEO and cofounder Beth Zotter says the result is crispy and very fatty. “The hydrocolloid gel is a sponge, and the fat is the water,” she says. “It’s mostly fat.”

Zotter started the company in 2019 after concluding that seaweed was the best way to sustainably provide protein for the world’s growing population. She says seaweed is incredibly productive, generating more than five times as much protein as soy per hectare. And she believes the size of the ocean means seaweed farming will be feasible to scale.

Companies like Dutch Weed Burger and Akua agree. They’re both making meat alternatives using seaweed as an ingredient.

“By moving our protein supply from land to sea, we can sequester vast amounts of carbon, simply by relieving the pressure on our land and allowing forests to regenerate,” Zotter says.

Other companies are making meatless bacon using other protein sources. In June, MyForest Foods raised $15 million to commercialize fungal bacon. La Vie, which also mimics animal fats by trapping vegetable oils between hydrocolloid gels, raised $28 million last year to produce bacon from soy protein.

Umaro has raised $4 million in funding, including a $1 million investment raised from Mark Cuban on the ABC business-pitch show Shark Tank. Umaro’s bacon is now in more than 140 restaurants, and the product will be in a burger chain starting next year. The company is hoping to use its technology in other meat substitutes but hasn’t decided which product to make next.