Meet the team: Interview with project leader Pierrick Stévant
Apr 23, 2024

Dr. Pierrick Stévant is the project manager of SusKelpFood and has more than 12 years of experience in research related to the production and processing of macroalgae. He graduated with a PhD focusing on the effects of processing on the quality of macroalgae in food applications as part of the PROMAC project (financed by the Norwegian Research Council). The project laid the foundation for the research in SusKelpFood. It is time to get to know him a little bit better and hear his thoughts about the SusKelpFood project!

Hi Pierrick, can you start by telling us a little about yourself and who you are? Where are you from and how did you grow up?

I am a seaweed enthusiast and PhD researcher at Møreforsking, father of two, living and working remotely from the Isle of Jøa in North Trøndelag. I am from Brittany in Western France where I grew up both in the cities of Brest and Nantes. As a child, I spent a lot of time with a mask and snorkel in various places along the coast of Western and Southern Brittany. That inspired me to study marine biology at a young age.

How do you think your background affects you as a researcher?

My research activity is rooted in a genuine interest for the marine environment in general and particularly for seaweeds and food. This fuels my motivation and inspiration to conduct research. I also think it helps me looking at my research topics with a broader perspective.

Do you remember your first encounter with kelp?

Surely not my first encounter but notable memories from around 10 years old, snorkelling one of my favourite spots nearby the westernmost village in France. I remember the feeling of laying still at the bottom of the kelp forest waiting for the fish to swim by.

Was it love at first sight or when did your interest in algae come?

I have been foraging various shells and crabs in seaweed beds on the shore as long as I can remember. But I was mostly interesting of what was under and around the seaweeds. My interest for eating and using seaweeds for various purposes came later as I studied algal physiology at the University in Brest. These lectures included a good mix of theory and practical fun things like making a seaweed herbarium of at least 80 species, visiting cosmetic companies processing seaweeds and making an old-fashioned Breton pudding-like desert made of infused Chondrus crispus (Irish moss) in milk.

Do you have the impression that most people in Norway and France have different views on seaweed?

The idea of eating seaweeds is a more recent thing in Norway. In France seaweed as food came from the revival of ancient Breton traditions, back in the 70s although it has remained very confidential until the middle of the 90s where it became more visible at least in Brittany. Since shellfish foraging at low tide is part of the culture, the threshold to eat seaweeds may be lower for French compared to Norwegians. My impression is that Norwegians are more sceptical to new foods.

- And the R&D environments?

There is a very good relationship between R&D environments and private actors in Norway I think. This relationship may be more fragmented in France although this is changing.

Is there anything that Norway can learn from France when it comes to seaweed and vice versa?

Norwegians, who are generally close to nature, could definitely be more open to seafood and the incredible resources that is readily available out there. French could learn from Norwegian for developing seaweed cultivation.

What is it with kelp that fascinates you?

First it is the function of kelps in nature and how much life and diversity these ecosystems hosts. Then I am also fascinated by the quality of it as food and the diversity of flavours and texture you can get from kelps depending on preparation methods.

What do you think is the best way to use kelp in food?

- For beginners?

Simply sprinkle dry kelp flakes as a spice in various dishes to get familiar with it. For example, dried kelp works very well in home-made fish cakes which is a very common food in Norway. 

- For advanced cooks?

Fry it (kelp chips), ferment it (kelp kimchi), … Cold infusion is a great way to get the kelp flavours. I use it for making salt caramel. You infuse dry kelp in liquid cream (ca. 2 dl, be generous with kelp) overnight. Make a dry caramel (ca. 160 g sugar), then add the kelp-cream heated beforehand, then add butter (ca 80 g).

What do you think is the most important thing we have learned through SusKelpFood so far?

We’ve definitely increased our understanding of the nutrient retention and flavour changes in kelps from various processes. We’ve looked into quite unexplored areas such as the microbial safety of fermented kelp and the allergenic risk linked to biofouling organisms. We have investigated new food processing methods like seawater blanching, pulse-electric field and new fermentation techniques. We are also collecting valuable insights on the consumer perception of kelp-food products. This year (2024) is the final year of the project. We are currently processing a large amount of data which is very exciting and helps us put the pieces of the puzzle together. I am also very satisfied with the dynamic collaboration we have established between research partners, kelp producers and the food industry.

What would you like to investigate further of what have come up during the work in SusKelpFood?

We need to keep exploring efficient methods to produce kelp in an affordable way for food manufacturers. I also think that we need to further clarify how much of a problem the high content of iodine is, in the context of including kelps in food
products with a broad distribution, and if current concerns are overstated. The health benefits (e.g. gut health) of kelp polysaccharides and their potential in the food industry remains largely unexplored and should be investigated.

We are very happy to have Pierrick leading the SusKelpFood team!