NPR’s Ayesha Rascoe speaks with Chris Dammann, COO of Bluu Seafood, about the company’s new cell cultured fish products – fish sticks and fish balls.
AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:
There’s a new option in the pipeline for consumers who want sustainable meat alternatives. Germany-based Bluu Seafood is one of many companies working to bring lab-grown fish to a plate near you. The company claims to have created the first market-ready fish sticks and pellets from cultured cells. Chris Dammann is COO of Bluu Seafood and joins us now. Welcome.
CHRIS DAMMANN: Hello. Nice to be here on NPR.
RASCOE: So help me understand – what does cultured cells mean?
DAMMANN: Well, it’s cells from any animal or any other organism that’s grown in a container. So you give them a nutrient solution, and they grow like they usually would in – in an animal – for example, in our case, fish. But they do it in a big tank, for example, in a container that is controlled.
RASCOE: So how do you get the fish stick from this cell culture?
DAMMANN: Yeah. A lot of people ask that. So when you grow the cells and harvest them from that big tank, you only have one big mass. It’s a bit translucent. So it already looks like raw fish. And then you mix it in with maybe plant material, plant protein to give it some texture and structure that holds it together. And you can extrude it into any shape you like. So we can make fish sticks. We can make balls. But you could do something else with it.
RASCOE: So the cells you’re using come from a fish, but no fish were harmed to make it. Would this be considered vegetarian, and are the cells alive?
DAMMANN: Cells are alive, of course. They grow. They just don’t grow in fish. They grow outside the fish. But we provide all the nutrients they need. The nutritional content will be the same. So you would have the same type of protein, the same type of minerals, omega-3s. You’ll get all of that, but it’s definitely not vegetarian because it’s animal protein. So if you are allergic to fish, you will have an allergic reaction to our product. So it really is like fish. Yes.
RASCOE: But I guess part of the reason you would want to do that is that commercial fishing also has very serious environmental problems, doesn’t it? So this process would address some of those environmental concerns.
DAMMANN: Yes, absolutely. I think when you look at the industrial style fishing – so not the small ones, but the real industrial style fishing is really destroying our oceans. There are so many bottom trawling and other fishing methods. There are so many things taken from the ocean. And the other is, of course, that our oceans are increasingly polluted. So many fish contain microplastics or may have other environmental pollution. Not all fish, but as a consumer, do you know which ones? So it’s a real problem.
And I think we solve, you know, a lot of them by basically using one fish at the start, and then you can do enough, you know, like a million fish. And of course we have no environmental impact on our products as it is a controlled environment. I mean, they’re in a big brasserie-style building. It’s sterile. So there’s none of that mercury or microplastics in there. So I think there are two things we’re addressing with this technology.
RASCOE: What is your response to consumers who might be put off by this idea of a cell-cultured fish product? People might be put off, like, I don’t – he grew up a lab? I do not know.
DAMMANN: When you’re making cheese, when you’re making, you know, kimchi, you know, sourdough, yeah, it’s cells multiplying exponentially. And we do the same. I think people have this imagination because of – what they read that it’s something weird, but in the end it’s really something that we’ve been doing for hundreds of years.
RASCOE: This is Chris Dammann, COO of Bluu Seafood. Thank you for being with us.
DAMMAN: Thank you. It’s such a pleasure to be here.
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