In the UAE's desert fields, a hardy plant produced with salt water is prospering and aiding in the production of "healthy" hamburgers, demonstrating the viability of sustainable agriculture even in the harshest environments.
Succulent salicornia, a rare farming success in the oil-rich United Arab Emirates, which imports almost all of its food, is already utilised as a salt substitute in hamburger patties.
Tina Siegismund, head of marketing and innovation at frozen food company Global Food Industries, based in the United Arab Emirates, said, "You get the salty flavour with less sodium, but you also have other benefits."
The company's healthy burgers, which also include chicken, quinoa, and kale, contain the asparagus-like plant, which cuts the sodium intake by 40%.
Siegismund claims that the plant, which is native to portions of North America, Europe, South Africa, and South Asia, is perfect for the harsh climate in the UAE since it has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory characteristics.
In the UAE, a country on the frontlines of climate change with regular temperatures above 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit), agriculture contributes less than 1% to GDP.
The International Center for Biosaline Agriculture (ICBA), based in Dubai, started cultivating salicornia last year on many fields in the United Arab Emirates as part of an experiment using brine runoff from desalination plants.
Lopez-Lavalle told AFP, "We moved from developing this prototype to piloting at scale with eight farmers, and the question now is how to expand up.
Salicornia "may become a pretty important food element in the future," he continued.
"It can replace salt and any other micronutrients that are currently artificially added to processed food if there is a commercial benefit and the production infrastructure is established for this."