Costa Cruises, the Costa Cruises Foundation and Michelin-starred chef Ángel León are joining forces in a worldwide pioneering project: the cultivation of the marine grain, a ‘superfood’ rich in nutritional properties which also contributes to the preservation of the sea.
Ángel León, known as the ‘chef of the sea‘ who has been awarded 3 Michelin stars with his restaurant Aponiente, is a great innovator in signature cuisine. For more than a decade he has equipped Aponiente with a research and development center focused on including new food and other products from the sea in the human diet. The goal is that one day people will be able to feed themselves in a sustainable way with marine products that are not necessarily fish, too often affected by intensive fishing.
In 2017, Aponiente launched a pioneering project on a world scale, allowing for the recovery of a native species of marine plant, the ‘Zostera Marina‘, in an ‘ocean garden’ of 3,000 m2 in the Bay of Cadiz (Spain). This experimental cultivation has also raised the interest of the scientific committee of the United Nations Department of Fisheries and Aquaculture, which noted that zostera cultures contribute to the protection of marine biodiversity, constituting a particularly rich aquatic ecosystem.
Coastal zostera cultures are also an effective ally against climate change, thanks to their strong ability to absorb and retain a large amount of carbon in the sediment, as well as protecting the coastline from erosion.
But the real treasure of zostera marina is its seed, renamed ‘marine grain‘ or ‘sea rice’ by Ángel León, which can be eaten as it is, or processed into flour and related products such as bread and pasta. It is a food with important nutritional properties: gluten-free, rich in omega 6 and 9, it has a higher amount of high-quality protein, carbohydrates and 2 % less fat than land-based grains, such as rice, barley, wheat, oats and corn. A ‘superfood‘ then, that if properly perfected, could be a key resource in the future to combat problems of hunger and malnutrition, which plague several areas of the world.
Moreover, its cultivation is sustainable, because it can grow without fresh water or fertilizers. It is also much more productive and profitable than other kinds of land-based grains, and can become an economic asset for depressed areas, such as the Cadiz area, which is experiencing a deep economic and employment crisis.
An endless love for the sea and excellence in gastronomy are the foundations of the collaboration between Ángel León and Costa Cruises.
The partnership, launched last October, does not simply include the menus and dishes created by the Spanish chef on board the ships, but now extends to a worldwide pioneering project, in terms of its environmental, social and scientific aspects: the cultivation of ‘marine grain’ which Ángel León and the Aponiente team are experimenting in the Bay of Cadiz, Spain. It’s a marine plant that benefits the ecosystem by enriching its biodiversity, contributes to mitigating climate change by absorbing and storing large amounts of carbon, and above all is able to produce, from its seeds, a ‘superfood’ with great nutritional properties, which could become the ‘food of the future‘.
“The sea is the greatest resource we have in nature. It is an idea that Costa and Costa Cruises Foundation share with us, and that led us to collaborate together on this project” Ángel León said.
Thanks to the support of the Costa Cruises Foundation, the research & development work on the ‘marine grain’ will be strengthened significantly, marking a turning point in the implementation of the project. First, it will be possible to extend the cultivated area of the ‘ocean garden’ in the Bay of Cadiz, increasing the production of the grain. In addition, Costa and Ángel León will work together to further promote the project, to the public, institutions and the scientific community, to build new opportunities useful to scale up the project, growing it further to the point of expanding it to new coastal areas in Europe, and even outside Europe.
Rossella Carrara, Vice President Corporare Relations & Sustainability of the Costa Group said: “We already had a partnership in place with Ángel León, sharing with him a deep love for the sea. It seemed natural to us to strengthen our synergy by supporting a project that fits perfectly with Costa Crociere Foundation’s areas of intervention and with Costa Cruises’ values, because it brings together several elements to which we, too, have long been committed to: the protection and preservation of the marine and coastal ecosystem; the research and development of innovative solutions linked to combatting climate change; the long-term vision with a view to fully integrating sustainability into the product we offer our guests; and the attention to social aspects and support for the communities that host our ships.”
Among the Costa Crociere Foundation’s projects that have great affinities with the ‘marine grain’ are the ‘Guardians of the Coast’, an environmental education programme to protect the Italian coastline, which has so far involved over 400 schools and over 22,000 students and teachers. In the social field, it is possible to mention the ‘Food Assistance’ projects, with over 1 million meals already distributed thanks to the Foundation to people in need. These projects, as well as all of the Foundation’s projects, are also supported through proceeds from the Archipelago restaurants aboard the Costa fleet, which offer signature menus by Bruno Barbieri, Hélène Darroze and Ángel León. Costa has also been the first one to launch a unique programme in the maritime sector, called ‘4GOODFOOD‘, which has made it possible to reduce food waste on board by 35%, allowing it to be reused for social purposes and raising awareness among guests and crew about the value of food.