Cookies baked from extracts of local seaweed abundant in the Sundarbans mangroves have 17 per cent higher protein content than those available commercially, says a team of scientists who harnessed the marine plant-like organisms for local climate change adaptations in the central part of the archipelago.
Rising sea levels that led to the ingress of saline water into the interiors of the Sundarbans -- impacting agriculture and nutrition quality -- forced oceanographer Abhijit Mitra and his team to turn to seaweeds.
Since seaweeds are marine, they could be used to enrich food products in the region.
"We used steamed extracts of seaweeds for making cookies, ice cream and bread. The cookies had 17 per cent more protein content than commercial ones while the ice creams were rich in anti-oxidant content. They had 11 per cent higher anti-oxidants than ordinary ice creams," Mitra, in-charge of mapping the carbon sequestration in the mangroves, told IANS.
The endeavour was part of a larger project titled "vulnerability assessment and development of adaptation strategies for climate change impact with special reference to coasts and island ecosystem of India (VACCIN)" funded by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research.
"The Sundarbans is under great danger from rising sea levels. So we thought why not use seaweeds because of the switch from freshwater to saline water. Seaweeds depend on salt water for their survival," added Mitra, former head of Marine Science Department of Calcutta University, who led the team.
One of the seaweeds (a green algae) is called "Shaola Shuto" (thread seaweed) by the locals and is scientifically known as E. intestinalis.
"We have used it for making bread too. The bread looks greenish so we are trying to figure out what to do about the appearance. But it has protein content that is six per cent higher than marketed breads. In addition, we found it is rich in micronutrients (zinc, manganese etc.) significantly higher than that found in commercially available breads," Mitra said.
The findings will be launched after Diwali in the form of a book supported by CSIR.
"Now, it is a process of trial and error to perfect the products. They are being disseminated locally through self-help groups but we plan to launch it early next year in Bengal," added Mitra.
The other researchers involved in the study are Sufia Zaman and Prosenjit Pramanick. J.S. Pillai, head of the climate change informatics at the National Institute of Science Communication and Information Resources (NASCAR) under CSIR, is the overall co-ordinator.
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