Would You Eat Lab-Grown Fish?

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    Lab-grown meat, meet lab-grown fish. San Francisco-based cellular agriculture startup Wildtype has unveiled the latest prototype of its cell-based salmon. The fish is made with real coho salmon cells, grown in a brewery-like system in stainless steel tanks.

    A scaffold made from plant-based ingredients helps the cells organize into a recognizable fish fillet shape.

    The company says it aims to protect wild salmon and the oceans and help solve global food insecurity.

    “Fish stocks are declining, oceans are warming, planet is warming up, and there’s been a lot of movement toward alternative proteins right across the board as a way to create another choice, another solution, another option for consumers that might be a little bit easier on the planet,” says CEO Justin Kolbeck.

    He says they chose the salmon because: “It’s the second most consumed seafood that we eat as a country after shrimp and it’s the most consumed finfish. It also has a huge amount of culinary flexibility let’s say right.”

    While demand for seafood is at an all-time high, wild fish stocks continue to plummet and salmon farms face warming coastal waters due to climate change.

    Wildtype says its not-yet-available-to-consumers product will provide the same nutritional benefits as wild-caught fish without contaminants such as mercury, microplastics, antibiotics or pesticides.

    Their salmon is intended to be “sushi grade” for use in rolls, nigiri, sashimi and Hawaiian-style poke.

    Kolbeck says: “For us when we started the company back in 2016, one thing that was missing was seafood and the reason that’s so important is it’s our number one source of protein for our species. It’s also one of the most nutritious things that we can eat. Yet there are all these downsides. So it’s like eat your seafood, but maybe not so much because you might have a lot of mercury or antibiotics or micro plastics.”

    The company is still at an early stage of producing prototypes of this salmon, the costs of research and development outstrip anything they could retail and the big step now is to find a way of upscaling production.

    Chief Scientist Arye Elfenbein says: “If you think about fish farms, for example, typically a fish will sort of swim around for a couple of years before it’s harvested. In our case, it’s on the order of weeks, six to eight weeks typically for some of the cuts that we make.”

    He says: “It really is one of the healthier seafoods that is available and one of the reasons is the omega three and omega six fatty acids. I’m a cardiologist. This is something that’s you know, very, very important to me to create the types of products and the types of meats and seafoods that really are nutritious.”

    The company’s consulting chef Rose Ha is impressed with the progress the product has made.

    “The texture is so close, the firmness of the fish, the color of the fish, the striations, the oilyness. It has just this really great clean finish and you can taste that in the product,” says Ha.

    She adds: “As of today, I mean, we’re so close, I even I after tasting the more recent prototypes, I prefer this product over regular salmon and it’s just because for me, sometimes if you get fish that’s just a few days old or maybe it’s not super fresh, it does kind of have a fishy smell to it.”

    Many in the sushi industry are asking for new sustainable sources of seafood with transparent supply chains.

    Wildtype plans to eventually sell its salmon to sushi restaurants and retail stores around the country, but Kolbeck cautions the company still has a long way to go.

    “It’s not on the market yet, certainly not in any large scale and so what we’re focused on right now is scale and in bringing the cost down so we can make enough for, let’s say, a small restaurant in San Francisco right now, but to have a big impact on the planet that we want to have.”

    According to a 2016 report from the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization, nearly 30% of assessed fish stocks are overfished.

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