Exotic Russian cuisine: Arctic fast food and reindeer chocolate moss

Reindeer moss chocolate. Source: Arctic Studies Centre

Reindeer moss chocolate. Source: Arctic Studies Centre

Food made from moss and lichen does not contain harmful additives, preserving agents, genetically modified components or soya. It is even seen as a key to combat urban lifestyle diseases.

Scientists from the Arctic Studies Centre have developed the Arctic region's first fast food, from moss and lichen, specifically sphagnum (peat moss) and reindeer moss. Researchers from the northern peninsula of Yamal in Western Siberia insist that this food can help restore strength and energy after long periods of physical exertion. Unlike ordinary fast food, it does not contain harmful additives, preserving agents, genetically modified components or soya. It even helps to address demographic issues.

The new northern fast food consists of a packet of croutons made of yeast-free batter on the basis of sphagnum and a packet of sauce made of reindeer moss. Mix the two, add boiling water and three minutes later you have a ready meal, which is not only very filling but also has medicinal properties. Reindeer moss is a natural antibiotic, which helps even in treating TB, while peat moss can be used to treat bronchial asthma and many other conditions.

Peat and reindeer moss grow in Canada, Finland, Sweden, Norway and Alaska. In Russia, the most promising areas for collecting sphagnum are Yamal, the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Area, the border between Tomsk, northern Omsk and Sverdlovsk regions.

Fast food from the end of the earth

Initially, there were plans to use Arctic fast food to help address the problem of food supply on the peninsula. Yamal, whose name is translated as ‘the end of the earth,’ is known for its severe Arctic climate. It is populated by the indigenous peoples of the north: Mansi, Nentsy, Khanty, Selkups. In recent years, they have been consuming a lot of food bought in the shops and, as a result, developing various allergies and gastrointestinal conditions.

"Why did we decide to create healthy foodstuffs with sphagnum as a base? Primarily, we were of course interested in its medicinal properties. Moving down the intestines, sphagnum, like a sponge, absorbs toxins and allergens and removes them from the body," explains deputy head of the Arctic Studies Centre Dr Andrey Lobanov.

The scientists admit: when developing food from reindeer moss and sphagnum, they could not imagine that their findings would be of interest to anybody outside Yamal. But it turned out that same problems are experienced by residents of all big cities, be it in India or China.

Andrey Lobanov adds: "Unhealthy fast food creates another big problem: it affects the birth rate. These days, most fast-food components, be it meat, bread or pastry use soya. In the past, Japanese women used to give their men soya in order to reduce their sexual appetite. This product leads to estrogenization, an increase in female hormones in the body. As a result, with time seminiferous epithelium degenerates and men develop serious endocrine conditions. It is a shame that a whole generation of people has already grown up on that food. Unless this trend is broken, people will soon lose the ability to procreate. We increasingly more often see a new type of men, with breasts, bloated features, and eyes devoid of any sparkle; and women suffering from a disrupted menstrual cycle, volatile emotional state, having a deformed figure, with swollen deltoid muscle and broad shoulders. The issue of finding a substitute for soy is unavoidable. And we have made one such universal filler from sphagnum."

Desserts

The list of innovative foodstuffs developed by the Yamal research centre includes not only fast food but also sweets, jelly made of northern berries and moss, reindeer moss chocolate, tundra bread (60 percent consisting of peat moss), as well as a drink made of black crowberry, birch bark and alcohol distilled from sphagnum. Black crowberry is a stimulant that does not increase blood pressure but makes it easier to restore energy after physical exertion.

Source: Arctic Studies Centre

Scientists believe that these foodstuffs could be used not only by inhabitants of the tundra but would also be good for the so-called ‘office plankton’ to minimize the ill-effects of a sedentary lifestyle and stress.

Can Arctic eco-products generate profits?

It is believed they can. They are likely to be cheaper to make than traditional foodstuffs. As for their market price, it is too early to say since the market has not been studied yet: no such products exist anywhere in the world. At the same time, the Arctic Studies Centre has already been inundated by requests for sharing the technology for their production, including from abroad. Interestingly, most of the inquiries about how to turn moss into food come from Indochina. 

The Yamal scientists are planning to launch a small test production by the end of 2014. The developers of Arctic eco-products want the key element of the technology – the substratum – to be produced only in Yamal, while the end products – bread, jelly or candies – can be made anywhere, including China, as long as there is demand for them.

All rights reserved by Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

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