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Plankton From A to Z: 26 Things to Know

Plankton From A to Z: 26 Things to Know

26 interesting facts and figures about plankton, an ingredient from 'food for crustaceans' drifting in ocean currents, to Michelin-starred chefs' kitchens.

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Aspic & Co. Aspics, all types of sauces, preserves, marinades and foams are the most common ways in which chefs use plankton. Reduced to a powder form, it makes an ideal basic ingredient for heightening the flavour of these recipes. It may also surprise you to learn that it is highly appreciated as an ingredient for enhancing savoury flavoured ice-creams and sorbets.

Bioluminescence. What a wonderful sight this is: phytoplankton, that is to say plankton composed of vegetable species, can produce an emission of light called bioluminescence, a nocturnal glow that tinges the sea in a shade of electric blue, magically colouring the waves in the darkness. This effect is also exploited by several chefs who create luminous phytoplankton-based cocktails.

Class of organism. Plankton is a term used to define an entire class of floating marine organisms, carried by the sea currents and the waves. They are micro organisms of both vegetable and animal species, comprising algae, larvae and tiny creatures such as krill (small crustaceans).

Dosage. A small amount, next to nothing in fact, is all you need to add to your recipes to obtain a pronounced and highly complex aroma while, on the palate, it is not unusual to perceive hints of matcha tea, sea urchin and truffle, together with its typical seaweed taste.

Environment. Eating plankton is good for the environment: in fact it contributes to limiting the practice of overfishing, a critical issue that sees many chefs actively engaged in awareness campaigns.

Fresh. To preserve the freshness of plankton, also in terms of taste, the most widely used cooking technique is that of watering down the microalgae and the other freeze-dried elements with sterilized sea water. This operation must be carried out a few minutes before serving the dish.

Garlic. Green sea garlic is one of the simplest and best known plankton-based recipes, originating from Andalusia: it consists in blending almonds, bread and garlic with seed oil, to which rehydrated plankton is added. It is usually accompanied with white prawns.

Human consumption. Not all plankton is fit for human consumption: also for this reason, numerous consortiums and firms have been set up to harvest, process and freeze dry it for subsequent distribution to restaurants all over the world for use as a basic ingredient in all sorts of recipes.

Iron. Plankton is a natural product rich in minerals such as iron, calcium, phosphorus, as well as iodine, magnesium and potassium, which contribute to ensuring a correct intake of nutrients in the human diet.

Jellyfish. Despite being larger in size, jelly fish can also be defined as plankton since they satisfy two essential requisites: they live in the pelagic zone and are transported by sea currents.

Krill. Plankton also contains krill, swarms of small animal organisms generally belonging to crustacean species. Krill is not used a lot for culinary purposes, but its oil is rich in omega 3, vitamins and antioxidants. However, it is fished on a large scale to feed farmed fish and to produce flours and compounds for animal foods.

León. No other chef in the world is keener on using plankton in his cuisine than Ángel León who operates in Cadiz in the South of Spain. His restaurant, the Aponiente boasts 2 Michelin stars and practices a unique culinary style in which fine dining is exclusively interpreted in fish dishes, and plankton occupies a place of honour on the menu (check out a plankton recipe by Ángel León here).

Machine for clarification. Spanish chef Leon has invented a special machine for clarifying broth and is able to remove up to 94% of its fat: it goes without saying that its filters are all plankton based.

Novel food. This term is used by the European Union to identify new foodstuffs when certifying their safety and peculiar characteristics. The plankton produced by Fitoplancton Marino S.L., the Spanish company that has pioneered this business and is now the world’s leading supplier of plankton, was certified in 2014.

Omega 3. Like other seawater species, plankton is not only rich in minerals, but also Omega 3 fatty acids. This makes it a complete source of nutritional properties.

Photosynthesis. The plankton living on the water surfaces and exposed to the sunlight produces 50% of the planet’s oxygen, thanks to chlorophyll and photosynthesis.

Quirky. One of the oddest and funniest fictional characters inspired by plankton has to be Sheldon J Plankton, a tiny microbe with one eye and an evil character who is the protagonist’s enemy in Spongebob, the cartoon set entirely under the sea. It is not surprising that the Plankton family of the cartoon is a very large one with 500,000 members.

Risotto. One of the recipes in which plankton really comes into its own is risotto: 10 grams would be sufficient to prepare this dish for 50 people. You may be wondering which risotto is trail blazer chef Leon’s favourite? The one with cuttlefish broth… not surprisingly, it turns up in the menus of starred chef all over the world.

Sea current. Plankton is entirely at the mercy of the sea currents: in fact it is unable to actively control its movements.

Toxic. The scientific study of plankton is essential for determining whether or not it is edible because some elements contained in phytoplankton are highly toxic: certain species do in fact produce poisonous substances causing diarrhoea, paralysis or memory loss in human beings.

Unamunzaga. Spanish scientist Carlos Unamunzaga has played a leading role in the culinary revolution of plankton: he has actually isolated various species of macroalgae in order to grow and harvest them. Thanks to his research work, plankton can now be produced on an international scale.

Vegan. Plankton is a nutritious food that is also suitable for those following alternative diets or lifestyles: its vegetable component is perfect for vegans, celiac disease sufferers or those who are allergic to fish.

Whale food. Humans are by no means the largest consumers of plankton. In fact, plankton is the food whales feed off by filtering huge quantities of phytoplankton and zooplankton through their baleen bristles.

X-species. It is believed that there is an infinite number of plankton species: there are over 200,000 species of phytoplankton alone and only one has suitable organoleptic and toxicological characteristics for human consumption.

Yeast. One of the many experimental uses of plankton in cooking is that of teaming it up with yeast: plankton bread is green, which makes it interesting for experimental purposes and food presentations.

Zooplankton. Unlike phytoplankton, which is composed of algae and vegetable components, or bacterioplankton, zooplankton is that part of plankton consisting of animal organisms.

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