CHICAGO — Food technology startup Aqua Cultured Foods is developing whole-muscle cut seafood alternatives created through microbial fermentation. The company plans to introduce its first commercial products early next year.

The company said it can produce seafood analogs including tuna, whitefish, calamari and shrimp using biomass fermentation and a proprietary strain of fungi. The process does not require animal inputs, genetic altering or modification. The products are not formulated with starches or protein isolates. A serving contains 18 to 20 grams of protein, 10 to 12 grams of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, with no sodium, saturated fat or cholesterol.

Aqua Cultured Foods has filed patents on the method of production, its usage in the food system and its strain of fungi.

“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 Anne Palermo, chief executive officer of Aqua Cultured Foods. “By nailing the taste, texture and nutritionals, we’ve developed something of a holy grail in the entire alternative protein space.”

In 2020, US sales of plant-based seafood alternatives increased 23%. Additionally, $116 million was invested in alternative seafood in the first half of this year.

“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 and general managing partner of Big Idea Ventures. “Each new product needs to deliver on taste, texture and nutrition while being 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.”