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Chicago’s Aqua Cultured Foods has revealed it has successfully doubled its biomass fermentation output of vegan seafood. The startup claims to now be able to produce twice as much product in the same timeframe, generating buzz for commercial possibilities. All varieties made by the company are applicable, including whole-muscle cut tuna, whitefish, shrimp, calamari and scallops.
Aqua has sought to streamline its process, further tweaking its control of environmental factors essential to the fermentation process. The result, it claims, is drastically improved output and a shortening of the growth timeline. Scaling is now an immediate priority, hence a seed funding round has been officially opened.
Commercial success brewing
Aqua is hoping to bring products to market for testing this year. Initial tastings will be to gauge consumer acceptance of animal-free seafood. For this to happen, significant improvements were required in both production times and yields. Both have now been achieved, allowing commercial planning to begin in earnest.
“Scaling our production is extremely significant as we move towards commercialization, and positions us well for potential partners that want to bring products to market,” Anne Palermo, Aqua Cultured Foods’ CEO said in a statement. “We thank our director of research and development Bob Schultz for his advancements into our fermentation techniques and optimizing for growth and capacity.”
To protect its IP ahead of consumer introduction, Aqua has filed three patents to date, with two more planned. Each represents ownership of its unique take on protein manufacturing, using biomass fermentation.
Differentiating between fermentation and cultivation
Despite its realistic appearance, Aqua’s seafood contains no animal products. It is emphatic about setting itself apart from cultivated meat production, which relies on the harvesting of animal cells to grow genuine meat and seafood products. Aqua uses non-GMO methodologies to ‘train’ naturally occurring protein, fibre and micronutrients to replicate the look, feel and taste of conventional seafood.
Aqua’s realistic seafood analogues have already garnered attention. In October last year, the startup netted $2.1 million in an oversubscribed pre-seed round that exceeded all expectations. Supply Change Capital, Aera VC, Sustainable Food Ventures and Big Idea Ventures all participated, alongside others.
Last month, it caught the attention of food system disrupters by debuting its mycoprotein calamari fries. The product was given chef Johnny Carino’s seal of approval, with the professional stating that the calamari looked and acted just like conventional calamari and required no new learning to work with it. The fries’ debut came ahead of schedule, further pointing to more timely developments at Aqua.
The race for hyperrealistic plant-based seafood
Vegan seafood is a growing sector, with increasingly realistic analogues garnering the most attention. Plantish gained instant recognition after releasing images of its deceptively real salmon fillets, in January this year. Using proprietary technology the Israeli startup has been able to mimic muscle and fat striations,leading to, arguably, the most authentic-looking salmon replacement to date. The company went on to secure $12.45 million in funding just two months later.
Current Foods, formerly Kuleana, has progressed its whole cut tuna and salmon analogues, making them available direct to consumers. The San Francisco company uses blends ingredients, including bamboo, algae and radish, to create realistic flavours and mouth feels. Green Queen’s Alessandra Franco recently sampled both fish products at Expo West 2022 and could not discern any difference from conventional seafood. California’s Impact Food also announced it is joining the whole cut vegan tuna race, with a soft launch in February this year.
All photos by Aqua Cultured Foods.