If you've heard about duckweed (the pollution-cleaning, climate change-fighting super food) then maybe you've also heard of azolla, a family of seven species of edible water-dwelling ferns that grows lightning-fast and is packed full of nutrients. Scientists are now studying azolla's potential in space agriculture as a super food crop for Mars habitation.
So what does a super plant taste like? Fascinated by the humble plant but stymied by the lack of actual gastronomical data, Stockholm-based artist Erik Sjödin set out to discover the possibilities in a hybrid art and organic agriculture project called "Super Meal", which aims to develop a "delicious, nutritious and sustainable Azolla meal, the fast food of the future."
Azolla's incredible ability to double its biomass every couple of days and fix nitrogen has meant that Asian farmers have been already using it alongside their crops as a fertilizer for millennia. At the same time, azolla is a promising candidate as a biofuel alternative and as sustainable food crop.
Like duckweed, it seems that azolla has vast potential, leading Erik to rightfully characterize azolla as a "green gold mine":
In the 70ʼs and 80ʼs renewed interest in Azolla was shown by the demand for a less fossil energy-dependent agricultural technology that came after the 1973 and 1979 oil crisis. Today Azolla is used around the globe as animal fodder and as a biological fertilizer on rice and many other crops. Other more or less explored uses for Azolla are wastewater treatment, control of weeds, algae and mosquitoes, medicine and production of biofuels such as biogas, bioethanol and hydrogen.
Azolla is also very effective at capturing and fixating CO2. The plant is believed to have had a significant role in reversing a greenhouse effect that had caused the region around the Arctic Ocean to turn into a hot, tropical environment around 49 million years ago. This episode that turned the earth towards itʼs present icehouse state is known as the "Azolla event". (Also see Mike's article about azolla being stored as 400 billion barrels of oil in the Artic here)
Apparently, azolla has a crisp texture, has a mossy fragrance and tastes like lettuce. According to various azolla food experiments around the world, azolla has been featured so far in recipes like salads, Chinese spring rolls, dumplings, azolla "meat"- balls, omelets and burgers. So perhaps we'll soon see some European additions to the list: Erik's ongoing scientific and culinary experiments are now being exhibited at Färgfabriken (a center for contemporary art and architecture) and its café in Stockholm, Sweden.
More azolla info on Erik's press release (PDF) and website Super Meal
More on Super Plants
Duckweed: The Pollution Cleaning, Climate Change Fighting Super Food?
Arctic Could Contain 400 Billion Barrels of Oil