Aqua Cultured Foods, a Chicago-based start-up succeeded in getting the texture, taste, and nutrition of calamari without the use of animal products. The startup used microbial fermentation to develop sushi-grade calamari from mycoprotein. The company focuses on creating whole cuts of fish-free products instead of many other companies that created ground seafood alternatives.
Aqua Cultured Foods is using the technology of microbial fermentation to develop additional products such as animal-free shrimp, animal-free scallops, and filets of animal-free tuna and whitefish to market. The startup was able to bring its fish-free calamari to market ahead of schedule and aims to make it available to the market with strategic partners later this year.
“We're moving on an accelerated timeline from the research and development stage to commercialization, and now our focus will be scale-up, strategic alliances and go-to-market partners such as restaurant chains,” Aqua Cultured Foods CEO Anne Palermo said in a statement. “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.”
Fish-free seafood makes a splash
The environmentally damaging industrial fishing industry is wrought with issues that range from human rights abuses to animal cruelty and beyond, all repositioned back into the spotlight by the 2020 documentary Seaspiracy. The alternative seafood industry is emerging to provide a solution to these issues and is gaining momentum. In the first half of 2021, the alternative seafood industry gained a record $116 million in investment capital, surpassing the $90 million total of 2020.
In addition to Aqua Cultured Foods' precision fermentation approach, other companies are working with different inputs and processes to develop fish-free alternatives that are just like the real thing. In the plant-based seafood sector, the biggest player has Gathered Foods, maker of vegan seafood brand Good Catch Foods. The brand was founded by chef brothers Chad and Derek Sarno and offers a variety of plant-based seafood products such as crab cakes, breaded filets, and tuna pouches, all made from a proprietary blend of legumes.
Cellular aquaculture startups are also working to disrupt the industrial fishing industry with a different approach that relies on a small number of fish cells that are grown in a bioreactor into real fish meat. Players in this field include San Diego-based BlueNalu and San Francisco startup Wild Type.
Earlier this year, UPSIDE Foods—a cultured meat company that focuses on growing poultry meat—acquired Cultured Decadence, a Midwest-based startup that grows shellfish in a laboratory setting. Together, the two startups will tackle the commercialization of slaughter-free land and sea animal meat. All of these developments are readying to debut to the public, pending regulatory approval of cultured meat in the United States.