Dish With A Difference

We’re talking about: alternative pizza bases

Get baked with hemp and spirulina, a pair of ingredients on the rise, with one London pizzeria placing them centre stage.

4 January 2018
algaefunctional foodfree-fromingredientsnutritionrestaurant openingvegan
image credit: Instagram @andreagdeck
  • The dish: Vegan pizza with hemp and spirulina bases
  • The place: PickyWops, Peckham and Fulham
  • The chef: Cristiano Vitelli and Andrea Moro

What? Hemp’s heyday is creeping out of the cannabis crop and into the food chain. Hemp is free from gluten, lactose and soy, plus it plays into the vegan trend. It won’t get you high either, as it doesn’t contain THC, the substance that brings on the psychoactive effects. But what it is high in is protein, fibre and minerals, including magnesium, phosphorous, iron and zinc.

There’s another maligned plant that is making its way into the oven too. Pushing plankton aside is blue-green algae in the form of spirulina. Often nicknamed a superfood from the sea, it is a funky but functional ingredient, which is loaded with protein and minerals and is also low in cholesterol.

While there are accusations that hemp is like eating grass combined dirt and spirulina is the equivalent of pond scum, the ingredients are finding their feet in vegan pizza bases.

 

Where? Italian chefs Cristiano Vitelli and Andrea Moro’s restaurant PickyWops has expanded into the recently opened Peckham Levels, the seven-storey carpark that has been transformed into a food, drinks and events space.

Vitelli’s personal journey of becoming a vegan led him into exploring innovative pizza bases. Plus, he wanted to change the perception that pizza was just junk food. PickyWops offers six different pizza bases, including hemp sourced from Southern Italy and spirulina.

No, the hemp isn’t smoked into the pizza; it’s crushed in with oil and has quite a bitter flavour, but according to Vitelli customers love it. As for the spirulina powder, it’s mixed in with flour to create a funky green pizza base that has quite the aftertaste, but it works well in the bread, Vitelli says. 

Judging by the Instagram posts at least, he’s not wrong too, with the bases creating quite the buzz.

PickyWops also aren’t afraid to experiment with toppings either. Taking it way beyond ham and pineapple, the kitchen have experimented with almond ricotta, broccolini and blueberries. And there are other bases too, including burned wheat, which makes the bread black and is Vitelli’s favourite, though people can also munch on multi-grain (a mix of spelt, corn, amaranth and chia), kamut made with Khorasan wheat or even turmeric.

 

Why? Hemp is already being used in the US in nutrition bars, tortilla chips, pretzels, beer, salad dressings, cheese and ice cream. Even Australia has caught up, with consumers greening out after it became legal to sell and use in food.

But hemp’s blending capabilities with common food ingredients is where it really has the potential to shine, particularly when healthy eating is so in demand. Australian health food store About Life is in negotiations for an upcoming range of hemp-based ready meals, and the 9Nine snack bar has made waves in the UK and Europe.

Spirulina taps into the growing demand for natural food colours, though it is plagued by a distinct savoury, sea vegetable flavour and a lack of awareness among consumers. Plus, a struggle to move the powder into foods.

But pizza bases may be the start of something new, with hemp and spirulina a way to add colour, crunch and a distinct taste. That’s enough to put you on a natural high!

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