SCIENTISTS are probing the secrets of Scotland’s “truffle of the sea” to find out what gives it the unique flavour.

Researchers from Dundee and Oban are analysing the pepper dulse, a wild-growing native seaweed, which is used by top chefs because of it’s “orgasmic” taste.

They are gathering and testing samples of the seaweed from around Scottish shores in a bid to pin down exactly which factors define particular traits, because not all pepper dulse taste the same.

The James Hutton Institute (JHI) and the Scottish Association for Marine Science (Sams) will also employ specialist “tasters” to assess each variety.

They hope the experiments will also help identify the conditions needed to create the most desirable variety so it can be cultivated for use in the food industry.

Dr Gordon McDougall, from JHI’s environmental and biochemical sciences group, said: “If you eat it raw it has got a right peppery kick but the flavour varies, and some have a real garlicky undertone. When it is dried you get the umami taste.

“The colour varies from yellow to red to almost black. Factors such as the season, the location and even the weather all seem to affect the flavour.

“There is interest in Scottish dulse from high-end chefs and foodies. People are adding it to everything from scallops to eggs or using it in stock. You get great flavours, and it even goes well with lamb and steak.

“We’re hoping this new study will help us understand how a consistent crop could be cultivated.”

Dr Michele Stanley from Sams added: “The chemical make-up and flavour of pepper dulse is markedly affected by environmental and growing conditions and nobody has sat down and looked at this in a scientific manner, until now.”