Algae, Microalgae & Seaweed

Researchers Develop Microalgae-Based Fish Alternatives, Offering “Everything Fish Can & More”

As concerns about overfishing increase, scientists at Germany’s University of Hohenheim are developing microalgae-based fish alternatives.

Unlike many plant-based fish products currently on the market, the microalgae-based fish is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, an important nutrient found in conventional fish. It is also an excellent source of protein and other nutrients, leading the researchers to claim that microalgae “can offer everything that fish can – and so much more”.

Other advantages of microalgae include its ability to bind carbon dioxide and the fact that it can be grown regionally, eliminating the need for long-distance shipping. However, there are also some disadvantages; for example, microalgae has a very strong taste of old fish, which could be off-putting for many consumers.

To counter this, the researchers have developed a fermentation process, which involves using mushrooms to break down the undesirable compounds. While effective, the process also breaks down a small proportion of the desired nutrients, meaning that more research is required.

Whole cut vegan salmon

Microalgae-based fish alternatives

Several companies are also recognising the potential of algae to replace fish. These include:

  • Onami Foods — A French startup combining plant-based proteins with algae to offer a range of alt fish products.
  • WTH Foods — A Philippines-based food tech startup developing frozen microalgae-based seafood alternatives.
  • NewFish — Based in New Zealand, this biotech venture emerged from stealth mode last year with an oversubscribed pre-seed round. The company processes microalgae into novel proteins and bioactives using precision fermentation. 
  • Sea & Believe — a female-led company making vegan fish fillets using Irish seaweed and microalgae.
  • Smallfood — A Canadian company producing premium microalgae-based proteins through biomass fermentation.
  • Oshi — A producer of whole-cut plant-based fish fortified with algae extract.

However, there is one more obstacle facing the industry in the EU — regulatory approval.

“We have to prove that this is a safe food,” said Dr. Lena Kopp, research associate at the University of Hohenheim’s Institute of Clinical Nutrition. “In other words, it must not harm the human body even when it is consumed over longer periods. In order to assess this, the researchers are investigating which amount of which ingredients are taken up by the human body.”

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