Is The Future Of Fried Calamari Mycoprotein? This Foodtech Startup Says Yes

3 Mins Read

Chicago’s Aqua Cultured Foods has announced the successful development of its initial commercial product: mycoprotein squid. Using microbial fermentation technology, the company has created plant-based calamari “fries.” Mycoprotein has been used to create a comparable texture, appearance, and taste to conventional calamari. Additionally, the whole-cut sushi-grade product contains a high nutritional value.

Executive chef Johnny Carino has been instrumental in the development process and he has opened numerous restaurants worldwide. He may yet be announced as a strategic partner, on top of his culinary advisor role. Commercial launch is slated for later this year via selected strategic partners though have been named at the time of going to press.

Raw mycoprotein calamari.

Seafood without sea harm

According to industry observers, trends within the alternative protein sector are identifiable. As an example, 2019 was heralded as the year of realistic burger releases. 2020 was synonymous with realistic chicken substitutes and 2022 has been predicted to be the year of seafood substitutes. The projection comes as sales of plant-based seafood rose by 23 percent in 2020 and market value is anticipated to reach $1.3 billion within the next ten years.

Such consumer trends are thought to be influenced by increased awareness of the environmental consequences of commercial fishing. Fermentation has no impact on underwater ecosystems, requires minutiae of the resources that traditional seafood production does, and can be manipulated to create a variety of products. Aqua Cultured has fine-tuned its technology to account for authentic fish and seafood developments. Calamari will be the first introduced to market.

“As you bite in, you get an immediate crunch note that combines with the realistic, slightly chewy texture of the calamari,” Carino said in a post-tasting statement. “It looks and acts like calamari. There was no learning curve as you’d expect with a completely new product or ingredient.” 

Gaining approval of a foodservice professional fuelled Aqua Cultured to press ahead with an expedited time frame. “We’re moving on an accelerated timeline from the R&D stage to commercialization, and now our focus will be scale-up, strategic alliances, and go-to-market partners such as restaurant chains,” Anne Palermo, CEO of Aqua Cultured said in a statement. “Hitting this milestone ahead of schedule is an achievement for the alt-seafood and alt-protein sectors, as well as for us as a company.”  

Breaking down the nutrition

Aqua Cultured’s microbial fermentation uses no animal products, is non-GMO, and requires no genetic modifications. The nutritional values of the mycoprotein products are comparable to conventional seafood, but with added benefits. In a 100 gram serving of the fermented calamari there are 80 calories, between 15-20 grams of protein and 10-12 grams of fibre. In comparison, the conventional alternative matches calories and protein levels almost exactly, but has zero fibre, 45 milligrams of sodium, 0.4 grams of saturated fat, and 263 grams of cholesterol. 

Aqua Cultured is currently developing a range of other seafood and fish analogues including shrimp, scallops, tuna, and whitefish. 

Seasoned mycoprotein calamari.

The future of fish

Aqua Cultured is one of numerous operations looking to capture the a slice of the alternative seafood market after documentaries like Seaspiracy exposed the many environmental, health and ethical concerns that plague the global industrial fishing industry.

At the beginning of this month, it was revealed that Thai Union, one of the biggest canned tuna companies, is exploring the potential of plant-based alternatives. Vegan products, launched through in-house brand OMG Meat, already include fish cakes, dim sum, dumplings, and nuggets. Thai Union is also considering a move into the cultivated seafood sector.

The race to perfect vegan whole-cut fish products is on. Within days of each other, Impact Food and Current Foods both announced new iterations, with Impact confirming a soft launch of a sushi-grade Bluefin tuna substitute and Current making its existing sushi-grade tuna and salmon offerings available for delivery throughout the U.S. 

All photos courtesy of Aqua Cultured Foods.


  • Amy Buxton

    A long-term committed ethical vegan and formerly Green Queen's resident plant-based reporter, Amy juggles raising a family and maintaining her editorial career, while also campaigning for increased mental health awareness in the professional world. Known for her love of searing honesty, in addition to recipe developing, animal welfare and (often lacklustre) attempts at handicrafts, she’s hands-on and guided by her veganism in all aspects of life. She’s also extremely proud to be raising a next-generation vegan baby.

You might also like