A hardy plant grown with the use of salt water is flourishing in the UAE’s desert farms and is helping to make healthy burgers, which shows sustainable agriculture’s potential in the most challenging conditions.
Salicornia, a succulent, is already in use as a salt replacement in burger patties, which has become a farming success in the Emirates and imports almost all of its food.
The head of marketing and innovation at Global Food Industries, a frozen food manufacturer, Tina Siegismund, said, “You have the salty flavour with less sodium, but you also get other benefits.”
The asparagus-like plant lessens the sodium content by almost 40% in the company’s healthy burgers, which also have chicken, kale and quinoa.
Local to parts of North America, South Africa, Europe and South Asia, the plant is perfect for the UAE’s climate and has anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, as per Ms Siegismund.
The cultivation of Salicornia started last year on several farms around the nation as part of an experiment utilising brine run-off from desalination plants by the International Centre for Biosaline Agriculture in Dubai.
The chief scientist at ICBA, Augusto Becerra Lopez-Lavalle, stated that research was now going on to generate more of the ‘high-value crop’, which sells for over $20 per kilogram in France.
Lopez-Lavalle further added that they went from building this prototype to piloting at scale with over eight farmers, and now the next thing is how to scale up.
In the coming days, salicornia could become an essential food ingredient.
If there is an economic value and the production system is well developed for this, it can become a replacement for salt and other micronutrients that are added artificially to processed food.
For now, salicornia stays a niche product, its health benefits are now known by many people, admits Ms Siegismund.
It is not a product that makes huge, huge profit, but we have faith in it and will continue to have it, she added.