Scientists team up with Michelin-starred Danish cuisine to make fish-free seafood from algae and mycelium


June 20, 2022 — A team of Danish scientists has received funding to work with chefs at the two-Michelin-starred Alchemist in Copenhagen to create a new seafood product by growing mushrooms on seaweed.

Dr. Leonie Jahn of the Technical University of Denmark will work with Diego Prago, Head of Research at The Alchemist, in a study funded by the Good Food Institute (GFI) to demonstrate an innovative method of making sustainable foods by fermentation.

If the method successfully recreates the texture and taste of seafood, the product could appear on the Danish restaurant’s menu and could also be sold more widely.

“Our main goal with the project is to try and 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,” remarks Deigo Prado, Head of Research at Alchemist.

Dr Leonie Johanna Jahn, team coordinator of the Microbial Foods group at the Section of Bacterial Synthetic Biology at the Technical University of Denmark, comments: “I think there is huge potential here – there is not many alternatives to seafood on the market, but there is definitely a need for them, and it’s also an area that hasn’t really been explored before.

The alchemist with two Michelin stars, Demark (Credit: Alchemist).Tapping into the texture of filamentous 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 used to alter the texture of fungi, creating products ranging from scaffolds – which give structure to meat grown from animal cells – to animal-free foods that look and feel the taste of meat.

The group will eventually create a “whole” product with the texture of seafood, using the mushrooms to ferment the seaweed in a process similar to the production of soy-based flat tempeh.

Scientists will then work with the Alchemist team to recreate the flavor of seafood, creating a finished product that will be a fusion of mushrooms and seaweed.

Filamentous fungi have been used for centuries, creating everything from cheese to penicillin.

While companies have historically used mushroom ingredients to make meat without animals, most existing research has focused on their nutritional value rather than how their texture can be used in food production.

Dealing with declining ocean stocks
Europe already imports three times more seafood than it produces, and global demand for seafood is expected to double by 2050. Almost half of the EU’s marine habitats have already been assessed as endangered or near threatened, mainly due to pollution, fishing and aquaculture.

A host of companies are jumping on the fish alternative boom. Royal DSM, for example, has developed a vegan fish flavor solution, Maxavor Fish YE, derived from algae oil, while Solina has recently introduced pea and wheat protein solutions to provide the right balance of color and flavor for plant-based tuna.

Last April, the American company Pearlita Foods, a company specializing in cell-based molluscs, announced measures to produce the world’s first “no ocean” oysters grown in a controlled environment free from disease or chemical contamination.

Alternative seafood player Plantish, which uses plant-based proteins to create premium whole fish, raised $12.45 million earlier this year in seed funding, considered the biggest funding round to date in the booming alternative seafood market.

Separately, cell-cultured seafood pioneer Finless Foods has expanded its product portfolio to include a new plant-based tuna offering made with nine whole, plant-based ingredients that are cooked and seasoned to mimic the taste and texture of tuna.

“Seafood is an area where we urgently need innovation, and there are huge opportunities for companies and governments to invest in new research to develop plant-based seafood products and crops that can help meet the growing demand in a sustainable way,” concludes Kell.

By Benjamin Ferrer

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