Plant-based seafood products seem to be jumping out of the water as the vegan fish market grows at unexpected rates. From sushi-grade sashimi to canned fish alternatives, food tech companies worldwide are working on cutting into the global fish market. Now, Chicago-based company Aqua Cultured Foods is introducing a first-to-the-market plant-based seafood alternative: calamari. Developed with the culinary advisor and chef Johnny Carino, the new sushi-grade calamari will be available to the public much sooner than expected.

Founded in 2020, Aqua Culture Foods set out to develop a sustainable seafood option with mycoprotein, a naturally-occurring fungus. The company typically focuses on creating whole cuts of fish-free products but recently shifted to creating a calamari alternative that could be breaded and fried similarly to its animal-based counterpart. The calamari will become the company’s first commercial product.

“As you bite in, you get an immediate crunch note that combines with the realistic, slightly chewy texture of the calamari,” Carino said in a statement. “It looks and acts like calamari. There was no learning curve as you’d expect with a completely new product or ingredient.”

Aqua Cultured Foods prepares its sushi-grade seafood alternatives through a proprietary production technique that ferments mycoprotein. The mushroom-based calamari is designed to perfectly replicate the taste, texture, cooking ability, and nutritional profile of traditional calamari. The plant-based version will contain 80 calories, 15-20 grams of protein, 10-12 grams of fiber, and no sodium per 100-gram serving. In contrast, conventional calamari contains 90 calories, 16 grams of protein, no fiber, and 45 mg sodium.

The new plant-based calamari will provide a nutritionally enhanced alternative for consumers. Beyond its health benefits, the vegan calamari is also extremely sustainable. The company boasts that its fermentation techniques better use materials and energy while minimizing waste and reducing emissions. The Good Food Institute reports that precision fermentation uses a fraction of the resources that traditional aquaculture uses.

“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.”

The company recently secured $2.1 million in a pre-seed funding round led by investors including Supply Change Capital, Aera VC, Sustainable Food Ventures, Hanfield Venture Partners, Lifely VC, Conscience VC, Kingfisher Capital, Big Idea Ventures, and Gonzalo Ramirez Martiarena. The investment package surpassed the company’s expectations, allowing it to scale up its product development and eventual distribution. The fish-free calamari will hit markets far sooner than expected, and Aqua Cultured intends to debut alternatives to shrimp, tuna, whitefish, and scallops in the near future.

A Wave of Vegan Seafood

The plant-based industry has become saturated with plant-based alternatives to chicken, beef, and even pork, but vegan seafood is only just picking up traction. One report predicts that 2022 will be the year of alternative seafood thanks to the rising development and interest in vegan and cultured seafood. Midway through last year, plant-based seafood companies raised $116 million, substantially surpassing the investments from 2020.

Another food technology company, Current Foods – previously known as Kuleana – just announced that it will soon begin delivering its realistic sushi-grade vegan tuna and salmon. The company expects to make its plant-based fish whole cuts available to consumers nationwide next month. As consumer demand for plant-based seafood alternatives rises, companies have accelerated production and distribution capacities.

Good Catch is also attempting to make plant-based seafood more accessible and more affordable. Founded by Chad and Derek Sarno, Good Catch pioneered the plant-based seafood industry with innovative products including its plant-based crab cakes that became available for wholesale prices nationwide.

The 6 Best Fast Food Chains With Plant-Based Options on the Menu

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