The Seinäjoki University of Applied Sciences (SeAMK) is studying the possibility of starting business activity in the nearby municipalities that would use forests and especially coniferous trees as food. The annual shoots of Norway spruce are already familiar to many consumers, but the aim is to find more ways of using spruce and pine needles.
Using coniferous needles in food production requires the collaboration of many actors at different locations in the production chain. Both the field and the production chain are challenging in many ways, and the journey of the needle from raw material to the consumer is complicated.
‘Examples of the complexity include challenges of foodstuffs entrepreneurship, regulations and the customer interface,’ says Risto Lauhanen, Senior Specialist at SeAMK, to Finland’s national public broadcasting company Yle.
One of the challenges is the procurement of raw material. No two years are the same, which affects the availability of needles. In addition, the needles have to be gathered by hand.
One option and goal is to involve forest owners and forestry companies in developing the business. Needles could be gathered from stands about to be thinned, for instance.
According to Lauhanen, one way of using winter needles from pines could be as spice. Spruce shoots are already utilized in manufacturing syrup and herbal teas.
Coniferous needles contain many beneficial substances, such as vitamins, minerals and flavonoids. However, consuming needles straight off the tree is not recommended.