Chicago-based food tech Aqua Cultured Foods is launching what it claims is the world’s first whole-muscle cut seafood analogue developed using microbial fermentation. Looking to become a first mover in the category, much like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods has done in the plant-based space, Aqua Cultured is set on disrupting aquaculture by growing the most realistic, sustainable, fish-free seafood on the market.
Aqua Cultured is the latest to join the rising fermentation alternative protein space, the sector described as the “third pillar” next to plant-based and cell-based, and wants to carve out a new category by launching what it claims is the “world’s first whole-muscle cut seafood alternative created through the process of microbial fermentation.”
Using their novel technology, the Chicago-headquartered food tech produces a complete protein without the harmful environmental consequences of conventional aquaculture – from greenhouse gas emissions to overfishing and a whole host negative impacts from bottom trawling, such as bycatch and plastic pollution – and develops whole-cut seafood analogues from it.
Some of the whole-cut analogues that Aqua Cultured is developing include shrimp, calamari, ahi tuna, fish fillets, but its first product will be a frozen popcorn shrimp coming in three flavours and launching in “select markets later this year”, followed by marinated seafood pieces.
Currently, the majority of seafood alternatives on the market are made using plant-based ingredients and come in formats like chunks, crab cakes or shreds, such as Good Catch Foods’ vegan tuna and breaded fish fillets or Hooked Foods’ shredded salmon.
Aqua Cultured co-founder and CEO Anne Palermo says that there is an “opportunity in the market” when it comes to replicating whole-muscle cut pieces that can mimic the look and texture of traditional seafood. Palermo founded the company with CSMO Brittany Chibe in late 2020, and has gained the backing of Big Idea Ventures and AngelList rolling fund Sustainable Food Ventures.
The technology that the startup is using is different to that of precision fermentation food techs like California’s Perfect Day who uses it to create real dairy proteins without any cows, and Change Foods, a U.S. and Australia-based firmcreating animal-free cheese prototypes.
Within the fermentation space, Aqua Cultured falls into the biomass fermentation category, which takes the fast-growing component of microorganisms as an ingredient to produce large amounts of alternative protein – something that legacy meatless brand Quorn has done using filamentous fungi.
Speaking to Green Queen Media, the company’s co-founder Chibe explained that they use a proprietary fungi strain to produce their products, and “since we don’t alter DNA, our products are non-GMO.”
Aqua Cultured also ditches the need for starches and isolates that are often used in existing alternative proteins on the market, which means that its final fungi-based product boasts a better nutrition profile with fibre, micronutrients and naturally-occuring proteins – all the while giving consumers the bite, texture and sensorial experience of eating whole cuts of fish.
“This allows us to improve the health of our global community and contribute to the solution of how the world will meet its increasing demands on food supply,” said Palermo, who added that it caters to the growing clean label consumer trend.
Chibe revealed to Green Queen Media that ahead of its upcoming launch, which will be through foodservice channels, the company is “actively raising right now and looking to close the round in the next 60 days” to help fuel its growth.
Going global is also on the roadmap for the startup, given that it has already garnered “significant interest from international foodservice distributors and operators,” Chibe added.
While Aqua Cultured is set to be the first to use fermentation to debut whole-cut seafood alternatives, other food techs have debuted whole-cuts meats using the same technology.
Among them are Atlast Food Co., the Robert Downey Jr.-backed startup making mycelium-based slices of bacon and other whole-cut meats, as well as Meati Foods, who have developed chicken breast, steak and are set to launch whole-muscle jerky later this summer.
Still in R&D stage, newly founded Barcelona startup Libre Foods is on the same mission and plans to grow an entire platform of whole-cut steak, poultry and even seafood from filamentous fungi.