Ángel León, a three Michelin-starred chef in Spain dubbed “the chef of the sea,” noticed the grains in the common eelgrass (Zostera marina) and focused on researching its feasibility for human consumption.
He discovered that the Zostera marina used to be a crucial part of an indigenous tribe’s diet in Mexico. This is, by far, the only identified occurrence of a sea grain consumed by humans.
Lab test results suggest that the tiny grains found in eelgrass are gluten-free, have high omega-6, -9 fatty acids, and protein that’s higher than that of rice per grain. This grows without freshwater or fertilizer.
León’s creative approach to seafood recipes, such as serving sea-grown tomatoes at his restaurant Aponiente, has made a mark in Spain’s gastronomy scene.
León worked with a team of researchers to further study the marine grain through cultivation. After 18 months, they were able to produce grains in what León calls “marine garden.” The team observed that plants, while also eyeing its potential to transform abandoned wetlands into a habitat that promotes healthy, rich marine life.
After successfully growing eelgrass grains, León tried to mimic Spain’s rice dishes. Its husk is comparable to brown rice, the chef said. He added that cooking the grains takes two minutes longer than rice.
León and his team aim to widen the cultivation of eelgrass from less than a hectare area to approximately five hectares. The project’s goal is to raise global awareness about the potential of this plant to feed more people, combat climate change, and improve aquatic ecosystems.