3D-printed vegan seafood emerges as sustainable alternative

Culinary innovation: Scientists develop seafood with realistic texture and flavour

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Researchers have introduced a groundbreaking solution to address the environmental impact of unsustainable fishing practices: 3D-printed vegan seafood. With concerns over depleting fish populations and the harm caused by aquaculture practices, the scientific community has been searching for alternatives. To meet this demand, a team of scientists has successfully developed a process to create plant-based seafood alternatives that are both appetizing and healthy.

The researchers, from the National University of Singapore, utilised an innovative approach by 3D-printing an ink derived from microalgae protein and mung bean protein. These ingredients not only replicate the taste and texture of real fish but also maintain a nutritional profile similar to that of actual seafood. This development holds the potential to revolutionize the market for sustainable and ethical food options, particularly in a world where the future of seafood supply is uncertain.

The team's proof-of-concept involved crafting calamari rings using their 3D-printing technique. The rings were then air-fried, producing a snack that resembled the real thing in both taste and texture. The researchers are set to present their findings at the upcoming fall meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Dejian Huang, the lead researcher behind the project, explained that the scarcity of seafood is becoming a pressing concern, especially in places like Singapore, which heavily relies on fish imports. The oceans, once considered an endless resource, are now facing overfishing and contamination issues that have driven some consumers towards plant-based alternatives.

While meat substitutes have gained popularity, creating plant-based seafood has presented unique challenges. The textures, flavors, and nutritional content of fish meat have proven difficult to replicate using vegetables or fungi. However, the team's breakthrough ink-based approach successfully recreated the flakiness and mouthfeel of real fish. The 3D-printed seafood product offers varied textures within a single item, closely mimicking the experience of consuming real fish.

The researchers used microalgae and mung beans, both high-protein plant sources, to develop their vegan seafood. The natural "fishy" taste of some microalgae made them a prime candidate for the squid-ring analogue. Mung bean protein, derived from a byproduct of noodle manufacturing, added to the innovative mix.

The process involved extracting proteins from these sources and combining them with plant-based oils containing omega-3 fatty acids. The resulting high-protein paste was designed to match the nutritional profile of calamari rings made from squid. The paste was then subjected to temperature variations, allowing it to be 3D-printed into rings.

Although the 3D printing process imbued the vegan seafood mimic with structure and texture, further cooking was required to replicate the final product's flavor. In a preliminary cooking test, samples were air-fried, resulting in a snack with an acceptable taste and promising texture.

The researchers  envision that in the coming years, these plant-based seafood alternatives could become available in upscale restaurants and specialty outlets. With its ability to offer a seafood-like experience without compromising sustainability, this innovation could significantly impact the future of food choices.