Aqua Cultured Foods commercializes “calamari fries” and sushi quality alt-seafood
21 Feb 2022 --- Food tech start-up Aqua Cultured Foods has developed “calamari fries,” as its first commercial product from novel microbial fermentation technology. The product yields mycoprotein (fungus protein) with a realistic appearance, taste, and texture with high nutritional value. The proprietary method delivers a whole-muscle cut, sushi-quality seafood alternative.
In addition to calamari, Aqua Cultured Foods develops shrimp, scallops and filets of animal-free tuna and whitefish.
“We’re moving on an accelerated timeline from the R&D stage to commercialization, and now our focus will be scale-up, strategic alliances, and go-to-market partners such as restaurant chains,” says Aqua Cultured Food, CEO Anne Palermo.
“Hitting this milestone ahead of schedule is an achievement for the alt-seafood and alt-protein sectors, as well as for us as a company,” she says.
In November 2021, the company signed a Proof of Concept (POC) with Migros, Switzerland’s largest retailer, to develop its seafood alternatives with an authentic taste and texture.
The collaboration included assessing Swiss consumer acceptance of Aqua’s fermentation-derived seafood alternatives and exploring new business opportunities in Switzerland.
Alt-seafood on an upward trajectory
The alternative protein burger ascended to market in 2019, chicken alternatives the year after that, making it an ideal moment to see alternative protein seafood scale to demand.
In the early stages of the movement’s development, Swiss flavor giant Givaudan presented research in collaboration with the University of California, US, highlighting the opportunities and challenges for manufacturers in seafood alternatives.
While the same macro trends drive the sector for meat substitutes, the interest in fish and shellfish alternatives reflects some of the fishing and shellfish industry’s specific challenges, the company reported.
US alt-seafood sales grew by 23% in 2020, and it is expected to be a US$1.3 billion market in the next decade. The profitability of alt-seafood is spurred on by consumer and food industry awareness of unsustainable practices on the conventional seafood supply chain and the degradation of ocean ecosystems.
Fermentation uses a fraction of the resources of traditional aquaculture. Aqua Cultured Foods has refined fermentation science for fish and shellfish analogs.
The calamari alternative contains about 80 calories per 100 g serving, 20 g protein, and roughly 12 g fiber and sodium, saturated fat, Omega 3s or cholesterol. The nutritional values are similar to cod, which contains 18g of protein, 0.7g of fat, nearly 43 mg of cholesterol, 54 mg of sodium, and no fiber.
On average, a 100 g of conventional calamari contains 90 calories, 16 g protein, no fiber, 45 mg sodium, 0.4 g saturated fat and 263 mg cholesterol.
Taste and texture
Aqua’s fermentation methods do not use animal inputs, genetic altering or modification and can be marketed as non-GMO. Executive chef Johnny Carino helped lock in the “calamari fries” formula to improve the texture and preparation.
“As you bite in, you get an immediate crunch note that combines with the realistic, slightly chewy texture of the calamari. It looks and acts like calamari. There was no learning curve as you’d expect with a completely new product or ingredient,” Carino explains.
The company’s objective is to mitigate global challenges such as overfishing, climate change and feeding a global population reaching the seven billion mark. Aqua Cultured Foods investors include Supply Change Capital, Aera VC, HPA, Sustainable Food Ventures, Hanfield Venture Partners, Lifely VC, Conscience VC, Kingfisher Capital, Big Idea Ventures and Gonzalo Ramirez Martina.
Aqua Cultured Foods’ calamari fries will be available through strategic partners later this year.
In other industry developments, Planteneers developed a range of textured vegetable proteins and plant-based binders called fiildTex and fiildFish to help manufacturers catch the wave of catch-free seafood with vegan sushi, salmon and tuna alternatives. The company unveiled a plant-based salmon filet as part of its growing portfolio of fish alternatives.
By Inga de Jong
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