Foodtech start-up Aqua Cultured Foods to develop first whole-muscle cut seafood alternative

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3 min read
AUTHOR: Stef Bottinelli

Launched on 21 September, Chicago-based foodtech startup Aqua Cultured Foods is creating seafood alternatives using fermentation.
The company is working on the world’s first whole-muscle cut, sushi-quality fillet, as well as prawns and calamari substitutes, using its innovative technology.

Aqua Cultured Foods uses biomass fermentation and a proprietary strain of fungi to produce seafood alternatives including tuna, whitefish, calamari and prawns. The company has filed three patents: one on the method of production, one on its usage in the food system and one on the strain itself.

The start-up is using microbial fermentation to ‘grow’ protein, instead of processing it, allowing it to retain its naturally occurring fibre and micronutrients. The method is different from cell-based fish as it doesn’t require samples from the animal to grow produce and can be marketed as non-GMO. It also differs from plant-based seafood formulations as it’s not made from starches or protein isolates.

Aqua Cultured Foods says that per serving, its products will contain 18-20 grams of protein, 10-12 grams of fibre and no sodium, saturated fat or cholesterol and will be fortified with omega 3s. In comparison, a serving of cod contains 18 grams of protein, 0.7 grams of fat, nearly 43 mg cholesterol, 54 mg of sodium, 0.19 grams of omega 3s, and no fibre.

The pre-seed stage company is preparing to scale production and build its infrastructure to be able to launch commercially in early 2022.

Fermentation was largely unexplored for growing seafood alternatives, so we saw the opportunity to fill a white space in the market by creating a one-to-one replacement that’s realistic enough even for sashimi, nigiri and ceviche,” said Aqua CEO Anne Palermo in a press release. “By nailing the taste, texture and nutritionals, we’ve developed something of a holy grail in the entire alternative protein space.

Whilst the plant-based meat market offers plenty of choice for consumers, the vegan fish sector is still in its infancy, with few companies selling alternatives commercially and even fewer having been able to recreate the taste and texture of fish.

“The seafood-alternative category is not yet dominated by any established companies as the category is still a white canvas for new entrepreneurs to create amazing plant, cell and fermentation enabled seafood products,” said Andrew Ive,Founder/General Managing partner of Big Idea Ventures, a venture capital fund that’s invested in Aqua Culture Foods.
“Each new product needs to deliver on taste, texture and nutrition while being a price aligned with customer traditional expectations. Aqua Cultured Foods has solved these issues elegantly to create a realistic product with a nutritional profile that often exceeds fish from the ocean.”

With the sea depleted of fish, pollution and documentaries such as Seaspiracy shedding light on the environmental damage caused by commercial fishing, more and more consumers are looking for seafood alternatives.

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