2 minutes with Zoe Christiansen
Business: The Northern Company
Occupation: Founder of The Northern Company, author of Ocean of Food
You established The Northern Company in 2010, what were you doing previously and how did you come to start the company?
My background is art! I have worked in experimental theatre since the beginning of the 1980. However, in the beginning of 2000 my work became more site-specific and I started working outside the confinement of the theatre space. In relation to projects I travelled to a number of isolated coastal regions especially north of the polar circle. I was attracted to places on the edge of civilization. I travelled to many places along the wild Norwegian west coast, but also to The Orkney Islands, Iceland, Greenland and the East coast of Canada as part of my work with a project called Passing Places.
All these places have an affinity to sea vegetables and for a number of reasons the big kelp forests became an important part of the performances we created in that period. It’s a long story; but to make it short; I got extremely fascinated by seaweed as a sustainable resource. I decided to work to bring attention to this great resource of very healthy food instead of working with art - I guess I really wanted to work for a change in the general attitude towards sustainability and how we deal with the global problems related to food - I have worked with it ever since in a small and local scale of course.
Can you explain the process of harvesting seaweed?
Harvesting seaweed is normally done by hand. You need a basket and a sharp knife or a pair of scissors. You need to take care to cut the seaweed to insure regrowth, but that is not difficult. Harvesting seaweed means being outside; following the seasons and the tide. Most places in Norway you need a small boat in order to reach smaller islands. You want to harvest on exposed coast with clean waters and strong currents, because this is where you will find the best sea vegetables!
How many different types of seaweed do you collect?
We collect around 7 different types. There are many more. For the larger quantities we focus for the moment on 3 different kinds, which grows in abundance along the Norwegian west coast. Sugarkelp, kelp and sea spaghetti!
So seaweed thrives in rough, cold and clean conditions, what temperatures are the waters?When we harvest the seaweed in spring when the water is very cold. Around 5 degrees C in March when we start - End of May the water will be around 10 degrees C. You need to be dressed according to the weather, but most important is what you wear on your feet. The area of harvest at low tide is mostly rocky and slippery – so you need to be steady on your feet!
Why is seaweed so beneficial for our diet?
The health benefits of seaweed are legendary. As we begin to seek alternatives to gluten-laden ingredients and embrace a low carb diet, sea vegetables stands out as an amazingly healthy alternative. Sea vegetables are a highly nutritious food source. It is gluten free and a good source of calcium, magnesium, and potassium, which are important in muscle and bone activity. It provides zinc and selenium, and many other minerals and amino acids. It is low in calories, carbohydrates and fat. The numerous other minerals and vitamins in sea vegetables make it one of the healthiest foods available.
Sea vegetables are also an excellent natural source of Iodine. It is especially abundant in the brown algae. Iodine is critical to thyroid function, protects us against radiation, prevents infection, and helps scavenge free radicals. Iodine is critical; "No iodine, no life"
Favourite recipe to use seaweed in?
I really like to use seaweed in pesto. You can mix seaweed with all kinds of herbs as well as different nuts. I add between 10 – 20 % seaweed in a pesto. I like to use winged kelp, laver or dulse. Most combinations are really good! However I use seaweed everyday as a spice and as a substitute for salt - It has a brothy taste and adds a lot of umami to any food you use it in.
What’s your proudest moment?
I’m very proud to have a group of dynamic young collaborators, I’m proud that we have managed to establish a company on one of the very remote and beautiful archipelagos of Norway and that people out there have received us with confidence and warmth. I’m especially proud that my children think that the company is doing important work and that they have been a part of The Northern Company since the beginning.
You launched Træna Foodlab earlier this year, what happens there?
At Træna we harvest and process local seaweeds. We also develop recipes with all the other local seafoods which we find in abundance in the sea. Towards the end of the harvest season in May and June we also organise workshops where people from outside can come and learn how to harvest and cook with Nordic sea vegetables. Træna is an amazing and very creative place; we consider us very lucky to be part of this community!
To find out more about The Northern Company, check out their website www.northerncompany.no or follow them on Instagram @oceanoffood