Cultured seafood start-up takes on the world’s most popular farmed fish

Cultured seafood start-up E-FISHient Protein strives to create an alternative to the world’s highest-raised fish, tilapia, by developing, manufacturing and marketing cultured tilapia meat, which uses a small amount of fish cells to grow real fish meat in a lab. The startup is a joint venture between alternative protein investment firm BioMeat Foodtech and Israel’s Volcani Institute, the country’s national center for agricultural research and development.

E-FISHient strives to create a food solution to the growing threat of industrial fish farming on the world’s oceans and to improve food security. “The enormous ecological damage caused by the fishing industry, together with the expected growth of the world’s population, calls for an urgent solution that will provide clean, wholesome, nutritious, environmentally sound and high-quality fish meat for us and for good for the planet,” E-FISHient CEO Dana Levin said in a statement.

Tilapia is the common name for hundreds of species of fish in the cichlid family, a mostly freshwater fish that lives in shallow streams, ponds, rivers, and lakes. Because it is one of the highest farmed fish species in global aquaculture, it presents a large market for the development of a more sustainable and ethical solution. Today, tilapia is more than twice the market for salmon and is expected to grow more than any other fish species over the next decade.

Growing tilapia fish from cells

E-FISHients focuses on Nile tilapia, a white fish considered very meaty in texture with a distinct flavor that has yet to be achieved in the cell aquaculture space. His current research and development work focuses on furthering knowledge related to the isolation of fish cells taken from a culture with the potential to grow into muscle cells and their long-term storage. E-FISHient’s product development manager, Jakob (Kobi) Biran, who also heads the research lab at Israel’s Volcani Institute, is using his previous research experience in this area to accelerate the launch of the company.

Ultimately, the startup wants its cultured fish product to grow without using animal-derived serum, and its product to serve as raw material for fish cutlets, fish sticks, and fish balls, and later, a fillet. If successful, the serum itself will be an additional product that E-FISHient intends to sell to the general lab-grown meat industry for further product development in the sector. “We are currently trying to find a sustainable solution that can be scaled to commercial production, first for the cultured fish industry and later for the entire global cultured meat industry,” Levin said.

The startup will start by selling its cultured fish products in the Asia-Pacific market, where the majority of tilapia is consumed. Eventually, E-FISHient will expand its reach into European and North American markets, but this will depend on each country’s regulatory approval. Currently, Singapore is the only country that has so far approved the sale of cultured meat. In 2020, the Singapore Food Agency licensed California-based food tech startup Eat Just to include its cultured chicken as an ingredient in chicken bites that were part of a small commercial launch for Eat Just’s new GOOD Meat brand. Since then, GOOD Meat’s cultured chicken has expanded into different formats and menus across Singapore.



Sustainable alternatives to seafood

E-FISHient represents one of Israel’s first forays into the cultured seafood sector. Other startups across the country are working to create seafood alternatives using plant-based ingredients and other forms of food technology. Earlier this year, startup Plantish unveiled the world’s first vegan whole salmon fillets. Its prototype Plantish Salmon was created to mimic its fish counterpart in every way, including a flaky texture, buttery mouthfeel, and fibrous structure to perfectly replicate the taste experience without having to kill a single fish. Plantish has created its salmon using a proprietary blend of plant-based proteins and patent-pending technology that produces a whole fillet that can be prepared the same way as traditional salmon, including poaching, grilling, and baking.

Similarly, food tech startup SimpliiGood is developing the first commercial vegan smoked salmon made entirely from a single ingredient: whole spirulina. Plant-based cut of salmon is being developed to take on the look, color, texture and flavor of smoked salmon, but without the exploitation of marine animals or ocean pollutants like mercury and industrial waste to which live fish are commonly exposed.

“Our spirulina can completely replace animal-based proteins or be easily incorporated into existing food products as a value-added ingredient, as it is neutral in flavor and retains all of its nutritional value,” Lior Shalev, CEO and co – founder of Algaecore, said in a statement. “This project marks an exciting step in expanding our company’s product line as we enter the fish substitutes market.”

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