Stressed? Chew on seaweed, says Carolien Niebling

In each issue of Frame magazine, we challenge emerging designers to answer a topical question with a forward-looking design concept. As part of the theme Welcome to the Responsive Workplace, in Frame 119 we explore how today’s always-on workforce of digital nomads and freelancers can reduce their stress levels.

Following an open call for entries, five designs have been previously featured, but in the magazine we asked for original concepts created exclusively for Frame. Inspired by the stress-relieving qualities of chewing gum, Carolien Niebling suggests a plant-based, mood-enhancing alternative.

You’ve given us something to chew on . . .
CAROLIEN NIEBLING: According to research from the National Center for Biotechnology Information in America: ‘Fourteen days’ gum chewing may improve the levels of anxiety, mood and fatigue.’ However, as well as relieving stress, it’s also a habit that generates a lot of waste.

Your solution is slightly unexpected. Seaweed.
Yes. I originally looked into articles about seaweeds and jellification while working on a project [The Future Sausage, a book on food design and sustainability that Niebling launched on Kickstarter] with Gabriel Serero, a molecular chef who specializes in textures. We are only now discovering the amazing jellifying qualities and textures of seaweeds. Noma chef René Redzepi has called seaweed ‘one of the few untapped natural resources we’ve yet to really start eating’.

Carolien Niebling’s future-forward approach to food design earned her a place in ‘The Challenge’.

What makes seaweed so great?
About 650 varieties of seaweed grow on British coastlines. It’s been said that all of them are safe to eat, but more research is needed to confirm this claim. Nutritionally, I can tell you that dried seaweed is rich in protein and that most varieties provide high levels of iodine, along with vitamins A, B, C and E. From a sustainability standpoint, seaweed is abundant, stocks are replenished within a year or two, and it keeps for a long time when dried. 

So what do you propose?
A series of chewables made from different types of seaweeds and plant-based substances. The idea is that these chewables resist becoming gummy in the mouth and, subsequently, digestible. The property of resistance gives you the jaw workout you need to relax, while the unexpected texture – brittle seaweed crumbles, and seaweed with more elasticity tears apart – triggers the mind. Thanks to nutrients from the seaweed, such as calcium, iron and folate, combined with stress-relieving herbs, the product should have a positive long-term effect.

Chewing gum relieves stress, but it’s also a habit that generates a lot of waste

What sort of stress-relieving herbs would you use?
Having considered locally available ingredients, I settled on lavender, Ginkgo biloba and passionflower. Although passionflower comes from overseas, it’s such a nice addition. All three have stress-relieving qualities. Lavender reduces irritability and anxiety and promotes relaxation. The benefits of Ginkgo biloba include improved cognitive function, increased energy and improved memory. Traditionally, passionflower has been used to treat a variety of conditions, like wounds, earaches and liver problems. But more recently researchers have found that passionflower may help adults manage anxiety, mild sleep irregularities and stomach problems.

Each of the natural substances used in Carolien Niebling’s chewables was chosen for its specific effect, from anxiety relief to sleep regulation.

How will the chewables taste?
Flavours should stay close to the herbs used to soothe stress. Lavender can be paired with lemongrass or Brazilian ant, which tastes like lemon. The gel will be flavoured with extracts and essential oils from these herbs and left as sugarless as possible. Ginkgo biloba has woody notes and a greenish aftertaste, which goes well with orange and tangerine. It might be nice to include a savoury option: Ginkgo biloba and bacon, for example. Passionflower has a grassy flavour and only light traces of its delicious fruit, so it’s a good match for calendula, aka marigold, which has a spicy, peppery tang and gives foods a light golden colour. Calendula and grapefruit are a great flavour combination, and the addition of roasted hazelnut makes it a real taste-bud tickler.

More from this issue

Frame 119

This issue of Frame explores how offices that adapt to their digitally empowered personnel are sparking a revolution. Studio RHE asks buildings for feedback, and Space Encounters designs an adaptive office for Sony Music.

€ 19,95

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