Vegan Wonder

Dive into the Depths of Vegan Seafood: Discover Plant-Based Shrimp, “Tuna,” and More

The plant-based movement is taking the world by storm. From Beyond Meat’s juicy Beyond Burgers to Impossible Foods’ mouthwatering Impossible Whoppers, plant-based alternatives to animal products are more popular than ever. But the innovation doesn’t stop at land animals.

The Rise of Vegan Seafood

In fact, the ocean is the next frontier for those looking to cut down on animal products. Environmental degradation and animal welfare issues plague the seafood industry. With the demand for vegan and vegetarian options growing, it’s no wonder vegan seafood is having a moment.

Fulfilling Nutritional Needs

However, plants can’t easily produce omega-3s or the elastic proteins found in crustaceans, so scientists must get creative.

It’s not enough to simply make a plant-based product that resembles seafood — it must also contain similar nutrients, says Breeze Harper, a sociocultural anthropologist of food, ethics, and health at UC Davis, and founder of the food justice project, Sistah Vegan Project.

In other words, plant-based seafood must have the same protein content as the real thing. And because many seafood species are high in omega-3s, these alternatives must deliver the same amount of those important fats — all while tasting good and mimicking the texture of the real deal.

Plant-Based Shrimp: The Crustacean Experience

Shrimp is one of the most popular seafoods in the world, but it’s also one of the most environmentally destructive. Overfishing and destructive fishing practices threaten shrimp populations, along with the habitats of other marine life.

That’s where plant-based shrimp come in. These alternatives are made from a combination of soy and seaweed, which is then processed into a shrimp-like texture.

Some companies, like Singapore-based startup Greenlab, use a proprietary method in which soy protein is mixed with a seaweed emulsion and extruded through a tube to create the shrimp-like shape, says Greenlab CEO and co-founder Cheng Ho.

Other companies, like Sweden’s Noble Foods, use a plant-based protein mix that includes soy, pea, and wheat proteins, along with seaweed, to create their plant-based shrimp.

“The seaweed is important for flavor and texture,” says Noble Foods founder and CEO Fredrik Dalman. “But you also need the right binders and additives.”

In terms of taste and texture, some plant-based shrimp can be a bit chewy and don’t completely mimic the flavor of real shrimp. But they hold up well in recipes and provide a satisfying bite.

Tuna Alternatives: Capturing the Essence of the Ocean

Tuna is one of the most commonly consumed types of seafood in the U.S., but it’s also one of the most environmentally destructive. Overfishing, bycatch (when other marine life is accidentally caught and killed), and the use of slave labor in the fishing industry are just a few of the environmental and ethical issues tied to tuna.

That’s where plant-based tuna come in. While there are no plant-based options on the market that exactly mimic the flavor and texture of tuna (yet), there are a few intriguing options that may satisfy your cravings.

Algae-Based Tuna

New Zealand-based company 93 Biology is developing plant-based tuna made entirely from algae. The company uses a proprietary process to turn algae oil into a omega-3-rich fat that’s similar to tuna oil. They then combine that fat with plant-based proteins.

The resulting product is high in omega-3s and has a similar nutritional profile to tuna, but it doesn’t yet have the same taste or texture. Still, 93 Biology’s plant-based tuna is promising and could be a game-changer in the vegan seafood world.

Jackfruit-Based Tuna

Jackfruit is a versatile fruit that can take on the texture of whatever you cook it with. When shredded, it can mimic the flakey texture of tuna. That’s why some plant-based tuna alternatives are made from jackfruit.

One of the most popular brands is Ton Ton, made by the plant-based meat company Good Catch. The company uses a jackfruit base and adds a blend of legume proteins (chickpeas, lentils, and peas) to amp up the protein content.

When cooked, the jackfruit takes on the texture of tuna, but it doesn’t have the same taste. Good Catch adds seasonings like onion, garlic, paprika, and sea salt to give it a savory flavor that’s similar to tuna.

“It’s not going to taste exactly like tuna,” says Good Catch CEO and co-founder Chad Sarno. “But when you season it and cook it, it takes on a similar texture and you can add whatever sauces you want.”

Sarno says the product works well in salads, sandwiches, and poke bowls. It can also be used in tuna melts and casseroles (just substitute vegan mayo and vegan cheese).

Beyond Shrimp and Tuna

While shrimp and tuna are two of the most popular types of seafood, they’re not the only ones getting the plant-based treatment.

Crab Cakes and Lobster Rolls

Crab cakes and lobster rolls are classic seafood dishes, but they can be easily veganized. Just replace the crab or lobster with plant-based alternatives made from a mixture of mushrooms, wheat protein, and other plant-based ingredients.

One company, New Wave Foods, has developed plant-based shrimp and crab made from seaweed, along with plant-based proteins like pea protein. The ingredients are then molded into shrimp or crab-like pieces.

“We wanted to make seafood that’s sustainable and ethical, but also has the same texture and taste as the real thing,” says New Wave Foods CEO and co-founder Mary McGglasson.

The company’s plant-based crab, which is made with King oyster mushrooms, has a similar texture to real crab, and it can be used in any recipe that calls for crab meat. McGlasson says it’s especially good in crab cakes and crab salads.

As for the lobster rolls, there are vegan versions made with jackfruit, which takes on the texture of lobster when cooked and shredded.

Sushi and Poke Bowls

Sushi and poke bowls are also getting the vegan treatment. While there are no plant-based alternatives that exactly mimic the taste and texture of fish, there are some intriguing options that can give you the same savory, umami flavor.

One of the most popular options is made from seaweed. Companies like Catch, a plant-based seafood brand made by the makers of the Impossible Burger, have developed plant-based “fish” made entirely from sustainably farmed seaweed. The seaweed is then seasoned with natural flavors and spices to give it a savory taste.

“We wanted to make a product that’s good for the planet, good for animals, and good for people,” says Catch co-founder and CEO Brian Spears.

Catch’s seaweed-based “fish” can be used in sushi rolls, poke bowls, and ceviche. The company also makes plant-based shrimp and crab, which are made from a combination of soy protein and seaweed.

Sustainability and the Future of Vegan Seafood

According to Harper, one of the biggest benefits of vegan seafood is that it’s more sustainable than traditional seafood. While plant-based seafood still requires water and energy to produce, it has a much lower carbon footprint than animal agriculture.

“Plant-based seafood is a way to reduce the environmental impact of our seafood consumption,” Harper says.

Harper notes that vegan seafood can also help reduce overfishing and protect marine ecosystems. Unlike plant-based meat, which is typically made from soy or wheat protein, plant-based seafood can be made from seaweed and other sustainably harvested plants.

And the innovation doesn’t stop there. Companies are constantly coming up with new ways to make plant-based seafood that’s more sustainable, more nutritious, and more delicious.

Greenlab’s Ho says the company is working on developing plant-based seafood that can be grown inland, using less water than traditional seafood farming. And Good Catch’s Sarno says the company is working on making its plant-based tuna higher in omega-3s.

It’s an exciting time to be a fan of seafood — even if you’re vegan. And as these plant-based options become more widely available, you’ll have more options than ever for satisfying your cravings without harming the planet or animals.