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Delicious? Creating seafood from fungi and seaweed

Different types of seaweed and different fermentation times and techniques can be deployed to create different flavour combinations.

Food engineering student Alonso Vasquez cuts cochayuyo seaweed to process it before putting it into a 3D printer at the lab of Chile's University in Santiago, on June 17, 2022
Food engineering student Alonso Vasquez cuts cochayuyo seaweed to process it before putting it into a 3D printer at the lab of Chile's University in Santiago, on June 17, 2022 - Copyright AFP Martin BERNETTI
Food engineering student Alonso Vasquez cuts cochayuyo seaweed to process it before putting it into a 3D printer at the lab of Chile's University in Santiago, on June 17, 2022 - Copyright AFP Martin BERNETTI

For those who enjoy the taste of meat or fish but wish to conserve nature or wish to avoid the death of animals, there are an increasing number of alternative products available each designed to recreate the taste, smell and texture of animal and fish-based foodstuffs.

The latest of these to be developed is with fungi and seeking to create the look, feel and taste of seafood. This comes from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Centre for Biosustainability at the Technical University of Denmark

According to the Guardian, the researchers from Denmark are seeking to ferment seaweed on fungi to develop an appropriate edible substitute. For this the scientists, led by Dr Leonie Jahn, are working with Alchemist, a two-Michelin-starred restaurant.

The aim is to produce a sustainable plant-based alternative to fish and other seafood dishes, of the type that can be used for sushi and other culinary creations.

The main challenge arises because the fibrous texture of seafood is a difficult to achieve. To overcome this the Copenhagen-based researchers are using filamentous fungi which grows as a mass of intertwining strands on seaweed as a substrate. The aim is to use the seaweed to infuse the fungus and hence to develop the tastes of the sea.

Different filamentous fungi are being considered; such fungi produce hyphae which can move through the complex, forming larger mycelia structures. “Seaweed” lacks a formal definition, although the weed is a complex of algae. Seaweed generally lives in the ocean and is visible to the naked eye. 

This is leading to a so-termed ‘whole-cut’ product with the texture of seafood, by using the fungi to ferment seaweed in a process similar to the production of the soybean-based dish tempeh.

Different types of seaweed and different fermentation times and techniques can be deployed to create different flavour combinations.

One motivation for the enterprise is because over half of the European Union’s marine habitats are assessed as in danger, either from environmental pollution or from over-fishing. In addition, the demand for seafood worldwide is increasing significantly and could double by 2050.

The role of the chefs is to offer creative input into the process. While the scientists can sort out the technology, food experts will be needed to assess the overall quality and the usefulness of the product to use in the preparation of meals.

The bar has been set especially high given the status of the Alchemist and the clientele it attracts, seeking the fine dining experience.

In relation to this, Dr Jahn is quoted as saying: “We scientists are not good at understanding how to make things delicious, and this decides whether people will eat them. There’s a lot we can learn from each other. [Working with chefs] is slowly emerging, but it hasn’t happened so far to the extent that would be needed to end up with products that are really good.”

Written By

Dr. Tim Sandle is Digital Journal's Editor-at-Large for science news. Tim specializes in science, technology, environmental, and health journalism. He is additionally a practising microbiologist; and an author. He is also interested in history, politics and current affairs.

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