June 15, 2024

Emirates Nature-WWF, ICBA and Sustainability Champion Omar Shihab convene UAE’s Finest Chefs in Umm Al Quwain to Promote Super Ingredient for the UAE: Halophytes

 Emirates Nature-WWF, ICBA and Sustainability Champion Omar Shihab convene UAE’s Finest Chefs in Umm Al Quwain to Promote Super Ingredient for the UAE: Halophytes
  • In a first-of-its-kind tasting event, more than 20 leading culinary minds from across the UAE come together to experience locally cultivated halophytes – a nutritious, salt-tolerant, and climate-resilient culinary ingredient.
  • By adding the halophytes (Salicornia and Arthrocaulon) to their menus, chefs and restaurants have the opportunity to drive sustainable gastronomy and contribute to positive impact for climate, nature and food security.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 29 May 2024

Environmental charity Emirates Nature-WWF, the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA) and sustainability champion Omar Shihab welcomed the UAE’s leading chefs and food & beverage professionals for an exclusive tour of the local cultivation site of halophytes in the Umm Al Quwain Mangrove Reserve. Guests convened at Casa Mikoko for the expert-led tour as well as a special tasting menu featuring savoury dishes invented with freshly harvested halophytes Salicornia and Arthrocaulon.

The event was organised as part of the “Nature-based Solutions (NbS) for Climate, Biodiversity and People” project in the UAE which aims to build climate resilience and is funded by HSBC Bank Middle East. One of the goals of the project is to advance innovation and sustainability of local food production, leading to the exploration of halophytes as culinary ingredients which can be used as superfoods, green salt, fodder and other by-products.

Halophytes are promising crops that can be produced by local farming communities, opening the door for new sources of income, economic diversification, small-scale business growth and local entrepreneurship. They also act as strong carbon sinks, removing carbon from our atmosphere and storing it within their biomass and the soil below. The cultivation of halophytes thus benefits local communities and climate mitigation efforts, as well as the conservation of nature and biodiversity.

A Refreshing Culinary Experience

20 chefs, restaurateurs, food journalists and investors commenced their tour at Casa Mikoko, nestled amongst the Mangrove Reserve in Umm Al Quwain, where conservation experts and scientists from Emirates Nature-WWF and ICBA showcased the diverse ecological merits of cultivating halophytes. Experts pointed towards the salt-tolerant plants growing naturally in the wild throughout the coastal area surrounding the hotel, emphasizing the possibility of promoting local farm-to-fork dining in the UAE with ingredients such as halophytes.

This special collaborative culinary experience was prepared by Chef Patricia Roig from BOCA, Chef Kelvin Cheung of Jun’s, and Chef Luca Cobre of Healthy Farm Eatery, along with the team from Casa Mikoko.

“We are delighted to welcome prominent game changers in sustainability, food and agriculture here in the beautiful natural habitats of the Umm Al Quwain Mangrove Reserve,” remarked H.E Haytham Sultan Al Ali, Director General, Department of Tourism and Archaeology, Umm Al Quwain. “The coastal lagoon of Umm Al Quwain is an exceptional national treasure, serving as the home of pink flamingos, herons and over 300 bird species, as well as rare and threatened marine animals. A popular spot for ecotourism, the lagoon supports not only biodiversity but also local communities, and represents immeasurable natural capital that is waiting to be explored.”

The Power of Halophytes

As climate change reshapes global and local weather patterns, there is an urgent need to scale up climate adaptation measures in agriculture. In this context, local halophytes emerge as promising climate-resilient crops that are well-suited to withstand harsh environmental conditions, including high salinity and water scarcity, making them ideal candidates for strengthening food security in the UAE.

“Over the past few years, we have collected vital scientific evidence that points towards halophytes as one of several high-potential Nature-based Solutions in the UAE. Together with partners, we are developing a business case to promote the commercial cultivation of halophytes and look forward to collaborating with chefs, investors and entrepreneurs to successfully bring this promising local ingredient to the market,” commented Laila Mostafa Abdullatif, Director General of Emirates Nature-WWF.

A Potential Super Ingredient for the UAE

Nutritional analysis conducted by ICBA on Salicornia grown along the coastal areas of Umm Al Quwain reveals high content in essential minerals, high levels of vitamin B12, and significant amounts of antioxidants – pointing to halophytes as a potential superfood ingredient.

“Scientists at ICBA have conducted extensive research on the use of halophytes as nature-based solutions for food, feed and biofuel production in the UAE and other countries. This research shows that not only can halophytes like Salicornia and Arthrocaulon thrive in saline and arid conditions, but they can also help restore biodiversity and preserve coastal areas. More importantly, they have significant economic, nutritional and culinary value and can contribute to better food security and nutrition,” remarked Dr. Tarifa Alzaabi, Director General of ICBA.

“BOCA is proudly engaging with this new ingredient, and we invite other chefs, restaurant owners and industry leaders to be part of this pioneering effort to harness the potential of halophytes as local, climate-friendly and sustainable new ingredients,” concluded Omar Shihab, hospitality expert, sustainability champion and founder of MICHELIN Green Star restaurant BOCA.

“Most chefs already recognize that halophytes pair excellently with seafood and fish. This collaboration inspired us to explore new combinations and applications. Today’s menu demonstrates that halophytes can be enjoyed in salads, soups, or boiled. Their pleasant bitterness makes them a great alternative or accompaniment to asparagus, pairing well with eggs and mushrooms. There are numerous potential uses: in simple or elaborate salads, ceviches, poke bowls, detox juices, pickling, dressings, even as a ‘pesto,’ or as a crunchy fried tempura alongside fish dishes, and possibly even with some meat dishes like lamb,” commented Chef Patricia Roig, Executive Chef at BOCA.