Lab-grown fish are coming, but what’s the catch?

Last week, I found myself trying the new plant-based “fish-free” fish and chips from a supermarket. The fake fish, made with rice and potato, was not fishy at all, the double potato a bit overwhelming.

Soon, however, those looking for alternatives to fish will have a higher range to choose from. Late last year, London-based Nomad Foods, owner of Birds Eye, announced it was working with BlueNalu of California on farmed fish (fish grown from cells), which should hit shelves supermarkets within five years.

Even earlier, it was announced this week, Brits could snack on 3D-printed salmon steaks. The Israeli company behind this vegan concoction is Plantish, which expects its “salmon” to hit restaurants within two years and supermarkets a year later. Shrimp and calamari would be next on the agenda. Beyond Meat’s tastes have revolutionized the alternative meat industry, and Plantish hopes to do the same for fish.

“Fish are the most hunted animal in the world,” said co-founder and CEO Ofek Ron. “If we do nothing, in a few decades there will probably be no fish in the sea.”

The alternative fish lags behind the meat. Singapore has already approved lab-grown chicken, and London restaurants have been serving 3D-printed ‘steaks’ since late last year. Recent developments therefore signal a great leap forward for fish. Tuna, salmon, shrimp grown in the laboratory or printed in 3D could soon find themselves on our plates.

Plantish’s breakthrough lies in the product’s similarity to salmon. The fillets are created by reverse engineering a real salmon to check its balance of components (protein, fat, water, omega 3 and 6) and replacing these with plant-based alternatives. A 3D printer then superimposes them in the same structure as the fish, with a pink color and layers of muscle and fat.

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