Almost half of the EU’s marine habitats have been assessed as threatened or near threatened – mainly due to pollution, fishing and aquaculture – by the European Commission.
It is therefore perhaps unsurprising that Europe currently imports three times more seafood than it produces. As researchers expect demand for seafood to double by 2050, innovators are looking for ways to develop sustainable alternatives.
Leveraging fermentation technology to create sustainable seafood can help meet growing demand without further harming the oceans, according to The Good Food Institute (GFI), a nonprofit advocating for a shift to healthier foods. durable.
To encourage innovation, GFI is funding a research project to create a new seafood product by growing mushrooms on seaweed.
Fusion of science and culinary expertise
The project will see a team of scientists, led by Dr Leonie Jahn from the Technical University of Denmark, work with Diego Prado, head of research at the two-Michelin-starred Alchemist restaurant in Copenhagen.
The interactions between scientists and the Alchemist team are expected to be “critical” to the project, as chefs will be able to bring a “new dimension”, guiding the flavor development of foods in a way which might not be possible. if the project was entirely lab-based.
For Dr. Jahn, scientific and culinary disciplines must merge to encourage consumer adoption.
“There are companies that approach these issues from a culinary point of view and there are companies that approach it from a scientific and technological point of view, but there has to be a fusion between these two approaches if we want to make products that are truly compelling and that people love to consume,” she told FoodNavigator.
“The food world and the scientific world really need to understand each other better and work more closely together. These two worlds aren’t on opposite ends of the spectrum – there’s a lot of overlap between how people work as leaders and how they work as scientists.
Create Texture with String Mushrooms
Dr. Jahn’s team will examine how the texture of filamentous fungi – microorganisms found in soil and other environments that form a mass of intertwined strands – can be used to create a range of sustainable foods.
The goal is to identify how different conditions can be exploited to alter the texture of mushrooms, creating products ranging from scaffolding – which gives structure to meat grown from animal cells – to animal-free foods that look like and taste like meat.
Ultimately, the collaboration aims to create a “whole cut” product with the texture of seafood by using fungi to ferment seaweed in a process similar to the production of tempeh – a cooked and fermented soy product held together by fungi. .
The project does not initially aim to imitate any particular product or species. Instead, it will expand as teams learn how the texture of mushrooms can be manipulated and how those textures can then be used to recreate seafood.
“I think there’s huge potential here – there aren’t many seafood alternatives on the market, but there’s definitely a need for it,” says Dr. Jahn. “It’s also an area that hasn’t really been explored before.”
For chef Prado, the goal is to bring a quality product to the table. “Our main goal with the project is to try to create a unique and delicious product that is good enough to be served in a fine dining restaurant, using natural ingredients with seaweed providing flavors from the sea and the mycelium adding to a attractive texture.”
The Challenges of Fermentation
What are the main challenges in creating a new seafood product from algae and mushrooms?
According to Seren Kell, Scientific and Technological Director of GFI, more sophisticated manufacturing methods are constantly being developed. However, “enormous” challenges remain to create products that taste and smell like conventional seafood.
“Using mushrooms in this way to recreate the flavor and texture of seafood is a novel approach that we hope will lead to results that will help scientists and companies develop innovative ways to overcome these challenges, she told this publication.
Seafood exhibits a wide range of distinct flavor profiles, with different species of fish and shellfish varying widely in flavor and aroma, Kell explained.
“It’s very difficult to mimic the flavors of animal-based seafood while avoiding off-flavors or overpowering ‘fishy’ tastes.
“This project takes an innovative approach to solving this problem using algae.”
If the method successfully recreates the texture and taste of seafood, the product may appear on the menu of the Danish restaurant. That decision would be up to Alchemist chef Rasmus Munk.
From there, it might even continue to be sold more widely.
As GFI is funding the project, however, ownership of the intellectual property generated by the research will be held jointly by GFI and the grantee. And any potential royalties generated by the license agreements will be shared equally between the beneficiary and GFI.