Although it will likely be a few years before the first lab-grown fish are available in stores, research into lab-grown fish is gaining momentum.
While investors were initially primarily interested in cultured meat, lab-grown fish now appears to be catching up fast. Last month, the first tasting of lab-grown fish products in Shiok Meats’ bioreactors took place at a restaurant in Singapore. The company hopes to bring its first products to market in 2023. Companies such as BlueNalu (which makes lab-grown fish sticks), Wildtype (salmon), and Finless Foods (lab-grown tuna) also plan to launch their first products in a one year period. relatively short time.
Although the production process is virtually identical, lab-grown fish has some crucial advantages over cultured meat. For example, fish grows more easily in breeding vessels than its meat equivalent. This is because the fish are generally cold blooded and can be grown at lower temperatures. In addition, fish tissue is more resistant to varying degrees of acidity and oxygen concentration in rearing vessels.
However, the biggest hurdle on the road to commercialization is the structure of lab-grown fish. For now, it is made from 100% muscle tissue and cannot compete with real fish fillets in taste and texture. “The texture of lab-grown fish is still completely wrong. It’s more or less like hummus,” Michael Selden of Finless Foods told Belgian newspaper De Standaard. To create a product that can compete with real fish fillets, companies will also need to connect fat cells and connective tissue to muscle cells in the right proportion.
This explains why crab cakes and fish sticks have already come out of the lab, but not salmon fillets or tuna steaks. Producing fish sticks from lab-grown fish is much simpler than mimicking a real tuna steak, with its meaty structure.
Despite the hurdles the industry still faces, investors have great confidence in the new technology. In 2020, 2.7 billion euros were invested in all kinds of alternatives to meat and fish, three times more than the previous year. This is however an overall figure, which includes herbal initiatives as well as cell culture.
This year alone, BlueNalu has raised more than fifty million euros through convertible bonds. Last month, the company also partnered with Nomad Foods, owner of Iglo and Birds Eye, among others. Together, they want to launch the first products based on laboratory-farmed fish on the European market.
Want to learn more about lab-grown fish, cultured meat, and other futuristic food concepts (for now)? RetailDetail’s Jorg Snoeck and Stefan Van Rompaey explore these topics in their brand new book The future of foodwhich is available here.