Fish is a limited resource and growing ever-more limited every day. According to the World Economic Forum, the world’s fish stocks are 90 percent depleted, due in large part to overfishing. One 2017 study showed that after decades of rampant overfishing, it would take five years to bring the world’s fish stocks back up to a safe level… if all fishing efforts worldwide came to a full halt.
Barring outlawing fish for five years, relying on aquaculture could seem like a good alternative, lessening the load on the world's wild fisheries. But the fish farming industry has been rife with problems, from ocean and waterway contamination to reduced nutritional value for fish like salmon. These carnivorous fish can also be unsustainable to raise due to the fact that they consume more fish feed, by weight, than they render in a finished, marketable product.
While strides have been made in rendering fish farming a more sustainable endeavor, including alternate feeds derived from seaweed and measures to prevent contamination and pollution, a number of companies have taken a different tack: working on a way to replace fish – be it wild or farmed – with a plant-based alternative.
We're Not Going Fishing Anymore
Impossible Foods is one of the biggest names in plant-based alternatives, with a goal from the outset of replacing all animal products with plant-based alternatives by 2035. In much the same way as it engineered its flagship Impossible Burger, now served everywhere from Momofuku to Burger King, Impossible Foods has been working on engineering the flavor of fish in a lab, deriving it from the same heme protein that gives its burger its signature meaty aroma and texture.
“With respect to the urgency of the environmental impact, fish are second to cows, followed by other animals,” Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown tells the New York Times. “That’s how I view it, and that factors into how we think about priority.”
According to Brown, the R&D team at Impossible Foods has already managed to engineer an anchovy-flavored plant-based broth, ideal for use in paella or plant-based Caesar dressing. But a company rep tells Organic Authority that Impossible Foods is not quite ready to release these innovations to the public.
“We have no news to announce on the production of plant-based fish at this time, but it is absolutely the mission of Impossible Foods to make all meat, fish and dairy products that consumers love directly from plants as soon as possible,” she says. “We have prototypes of many products in R&D from fish to milk, and while fish is important for all the reasons Pat mentioned in the NYT piece, we are not announcing anything related to next products.”
But Impossible Foods is not the only company making plant-based fish is a priority. PrimeRoots (formerly Terramino) is currently working on launching plant-based lobster chunks, salmon burgers, crab cakes, shrimp, and tuna chunks, all of which are derived from fungi.
Some other companies have already brought their plant-based fish alternatives to market, including Good Catch, whose plant-based tuna is made with a proprietary protein blend of six legumes and algal oil. California-based Sophie's Kitchen, meanwhile, produces vegan shrimp, smoked salmon, crab cakes, scallops, salmon bacon, and salmon pastrami, all derived predominantly from konjac.
You'll find Ocean Hugger Foods' Ahimi at your local Whole Foods, but not in the fish aisle. Instead, this tomato-based raw tuna alternative can be found at the sushi counter, used to make vegan sushi and sashimi.
Wild Type is approaching the problem from a different angle: rather than making its salmon from plants, it's culturing it in a lab. While the resulting product, unlike many others, is not vegan, this cell-based fish does lessen the environmental impact of wild or farmed alternatives while boasting a far more comparable texture and flavor.
Plant-Based Fish at Home, 3 Ways
If store-bought cell- or plant-based fish alternatives aren’t quite your vibe, there are ways to engineer these flavors at home. Here are three of our favorite recipes.
1. "Tuna" Salad Sandwich
Tuna salad fans will fall head over heels for this chickpea-based sandwich from the Simple Veganista made with vegan mayo, celery, onion, and garlic. A touch of omega-rich hemp hearts and briny nori bring it all together.
2. Vegan Niçoise Salad
This Niçoise-inspired salad from the Minimalist Baker also features chickpeas, although not exactly as a tuna substitute. Instead, the chickpeas are their own thing, flavored with mustard, maple, dill, and sunflower seeds. With briny olives, hearty potatoes, and a zingy vinaigrette, it's the perfect summertime meal.
3. Vegan Fish Sticks
This "fish" stick recipe from Jessica in the Kitchen is made with a base of hearts of palm seasoned with Old Bay and nori, for tons of ocean-inspired flavor. The homemade tartar sauce served alongside uses a vegan mayo base and briny pickles for flavor and crunch.
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