Food CostsustainabilitySustainable SeafoodTechnology

Is Fishless Fish the Next Impossible Burger?

A colleague of mine tried some fishless fish at the recent NRA conference. Unfortunately, it was not an experience that she enjoyed or would care to repeat. This led to this post and the question: Have companies created a fishless fish that can compete in the alternative plant-based arena in the same way that businesses such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have done in the alternative-meat plant-based market?

Let’s take a look at the options and see just what the alternative fish market is producing.

Impossible Foods

Impossible Foods seems to be on a mission—to find a replacement for every animal-based protein by 2035, as reported in the New York Times. Thus far, plant-based burgers have been their big seller with more than 1,300 restaurants across the U.S. buying their impossible burger and branding it as their own. Examples include Burger King’s Impossible Whopper and White Castle’s Impossible Slider.

One of their secret ingredients is “heme,” a molecule that is readily found in animal muscle. To get that meaty texture and taste into their plant alternative, they produce heme via a genetically engineered yeast. This same process is their focus on the biochemistry of fish flavor. In June, they created an anchovy-flavored broth made from plants.

Wild Type

This San Francisco-based company isn’t turning to plants to replace animals. Instead, it is turning to science and growing salmon in a lab. Currently, this type of approach is not commercially viable as salmon grown from cells in a lab takes time. One pound of salmon reportedly took three weeks to create.

In June, Wild Type had its first taste-test dinner at the Olympia Oyster bar in Portland, Oregon. The menu included Ceviche Verde, Tartare, and Hawaiian poke, to name a few. All the items were made with cell-based salmon dishes that were grown in a lab. Another hurdle this company faces, in addition to cost, is that the salmon can only be served raw.

Other companies growing cell-based fish in a lab include Finless Foods, Shiok Meats, and Avant Meats.

Good Catch

While lab-grown fish will probably not hit the market for several years, plant-based fish has already sprung up in Whole Foods. As of February, Good Catch’s plant-based tuna was on the shelves. Its ingredients include chickpea flour, lentils, pea protein, soy, and sea algae oil. They offer three flavors: Naked in Water, Mediterranean, and Oil & Herbs.

Ocean Hugger Foods

This company, founded in 2015, is producing a plant-based, fish-free alternative raw tuna. Their Ahimi® is a raw Ahi alternative made from fresh tomatoes, non-GMO soy sauce, filtered water, sugar, and sesame oil. According to Ocean Hugger Foods, “Its appearance and texture are indistinguishable from raw tuna.” Other products in the making include Sakimi, a carrot-based salmon alternative and Unami, an eggplant-based eel alternative.

Other companies jumping on the fishless tuna bandwagon include Atlantic Natural Foods and Sophie’s Kitchen which produces a “toona” made out of Japanese yams. 

Is There a Market for Seafood-Alternative Products?

While the consumption of meat has been linked to health risks which include type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some cancers, fish has been always been the go-to healthier alternative. Most of the new meat-textured, plant-based alternatives are geared for carnivores choosing a healthier lifestyle. A majority of meat-alternative consumers are doing so, not to save the planet from the massive greenhouse gasses produced by traditional farming practices, but because they view it as a healthier choice.

On the other side of this equation, however, is the current rise in the awareness that our seas are quickly becoming depleted of marine life due to overfishing. According to the World Economic Forum, 90 percent of fish stocks are “fully exploited, overexploited, or depleted.”

One of the forefront leaders in the sustainable seafood movement is Seafood Watch, a program sponsored by the Monterey Bay Aquarium that brings awareness of the species on the brink of extinction and better alternatives that both those in the food industries and consumers can choose. They believe that one of the major culprits in the deterioration of marine life is the growth of industrial-scale fishing which surfaced in the late 1800s. From 1950 to 2000, the commercially important species in the North Atlantic declined by two-thirds. These species include bluefin tuna, cod, and halibut.

Today, in restaurants and grocery stores, you can hear customers ask where the seafood comes from and if it is farm-raised or wild. While the debate continues on the health and ecological factors of both of these types of fish, it is clear that there is a growing awareness and desire to participate in the recovery of the oceans and its inhabitants.

That was probably a long-winded approach of saying— “Yes, Virginia, there is hope for our planet.” And the growing awareness may just make this the perfect time to bring on a tasty alternative to our depleted marine life, not to mention the contaminated waters that are the cause of mercury-laden fish. The question remains, who will be the first to make the best tasting seafood alternative?

It may just be time for a taste-test.


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