We often look far and wide for the produce we love most, but, in this case, there is no need as the best Salicornia in Europe is grown right here in the Algarve.
Rich in calcium, magnesium and potassium, “it is far healthier than fleur de sel”, explains biologist Ricardo Coelho, a graduate of the University of the Algarve with a master’s degree from the University of Plymouth in England, and one of the founders of the company Salivitae, a Portimão-based producer of halophyte plants.
Salicornia helps significantly in the recovery of cardiovascular diseases by contributing to blood cleansing through polyphenols, which favour cell reconstruction.
At a neurological level, it helps minimise the effects of degenerative diseases. It is also beneficial for athletes, as it can help with muscle recovery and has a high protein content.
The company produces approximately 25 tonnes of Salicornia per year and, as well as selling the plant in its fresh form, Salivitae also has dehydrated (green salt) and pickled options available, so customers can enjoy it in different ways and use it as an alternative to salt, thus reducing the sodium chloride content of meals.
Ricardo Coelho reveals that the company is developing other products, such as a food supplement and different fermented options so that everyone can enjoy the benefits of this plant that are still largely unknown.
There are also environmental advantages to samphire production, such as promoting the reduction of freshwater use, thus conserving scarce resources.
It also has the ability to sequester atmospheric CO2 in large quantities and is integral to nature since it grows near salt marshes, promoting a nature-based economy, whilst naturally rehabilitating soils that were abandoned due to increased salinity.
Two key factors in its production are an average temperature of 20°C to 35°C and adequate soil salinity, as it is a salt-dependent plant and, therefore, grows best on land close to the sea.
Currently, Salivitae’s greenhouse occupies an area of 4,400sqm and the open-space production area covers 1.8 hectares. But the company is now looking to expand. This year, two projects have been approved that will considerably increase the production area and will include a new 4,000sqm greenhouse. However, this is not the only novelty: Salivitae is becoming a trademark with the support of company Gôndola d’Aventura Lda and investors Erik de Vlieger and Jeroen Haen, two local entrepreneurs well known in the region.
“Evolving and replicating what already exists, always with a focus on innovation and diversification” is the path that the company wants to take, after years of learning as a result of the lack of information that existed when, in the summer of 2016, Ricardo Coelho decided to embark on this adventure. Today, he knows that there is a huge range of halophyte crops, and he has a very positive outlook for the future. “We want to grow a lot,” reveals the biologist, adding that “both fresh and dehydrated production only makes sense if it’s done on a large scale. As for food supplement production, it makes sense in the future, also on a large scale.”
At the moment, around 98% of the Salicornia produced by Salivitae in the village of Figueira is exported mainly to the Netherlands, followed by the UK, Germany and Spain, and the remainder is sold to various restaurants across the Algarve, including Faina and Numa in Portimão, Ribeira in Alvor and Chá Chá Chá in Olhão.
Also in Portimão, at the Loki restaurant, chef and owner João Marreiros has chosen three different dishes that perfectly showcase the Algarvian Salicornia, which when combined with certain foods adds a unique flavour, as well as making the meal healthier.
Ricardo and João share both an interest in Salicornia and the sea, similarities they discovered just a year ago when they met at a summer food festival in Portimão. “We met at Arrebita in 2022 and ended up chatting for hours about haute cuisine, professional projects and life goals,” recalls Ricardo Coelho. Since then, the two entrepreneurs have become friends and the Salicornia produced by Salivitae is served at Loki.
And so, who better than chef João Marreiros, from Monchique, to make creative use of this plant, a characteristic that has defined him since he opened Loki in 2019, where he is essentially guided by two principles: the revival of indigenous foods and using every last bit of every ingredient. Innovation is also a keyword as he never repeats the same recipe twice.
The first dish selected by the chef is an oyster served with Salicornia vinegar, lemon drops for some acidity, chopped onion, fermented oyster sauce and a shoyu sauce infused with orange zest. On top of the oyster, he lays pieces of fried moray eel and fresh Salicornia. This is a special dish because the sauces, made by chef João, like everything else served in his restaurant, take years of preparation: the shoyu sauce, for example, takes three years whilst the fermented oyster takes almost two years.
The second dish combines Salicornia with another unusual ingredient – Churra lamb. “I love working with this product and I wish more of my colleagues did too,” he says.
The dish consists of crispy Churra meat, which is smoked and salted to preserve it. This is then cooked for a long time until tender and then shredded. Next, it is fried in lard, which makes it “super crispy”, and enhanced by the fresh Salicornia on top. To create an unparalleled flavour experience, he made a mayonnaise with dehydrated samphire emulsified at 60ºC with olive oil, lemon juice and egg yolk. Tomato consommé is poured around it, an excellent complement, giving acidity to the dish. To make this, he clarifies the tomatoes for 16 hours and the consommé becomes transparent.
Finally, João Marreiros presents a crab rice stew where fresh samphire is seasoned separately and used to complement this dish characterised by the texture of the rice. The crab is simply grilled and then pressed to extract only the juice that is used in the malandrinho rice. “A very simple, intense and fresh dish” in which the “fantastic saltiness and texture” of the Salicornia combines perfectly with the seafood flavour, the chef explained.
Salicornia can be used without rules or limits, either to make simple salads or as an accompaniment to fish or meat, seasoned to taste. It totally transforms the gastronomic experience “both because it is not too salty and its texture is perfect”, concludes João Marreiros.
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