Our oceans could be empty by 2048. This start-up is 3D printing fish to meet growing seafood demand

3D-printed grouper being prepared for a tasting
3D-printed grouper being prepared for a tasting Copyright Reuters
Copyright Reuters
By Roselyne MinReuters
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The ready-to-cook, flaky fish fillet is expected to enter the consumer market next year in Singapore and then in countries like the US and Japan.


Around the world, people are consuming fish and seafood more than ever, according to the World Economic Forum (WEF).

Countries with the highest consumption, such as Iceland and the Maldives, ate more than 80 kg of fish and seafood per person on average in 2019.

According to a study done by Dalhousie University, if things remain the same, the world’s oceans could be virtually empty by 2048.

The dwindling fish population calls for alternatives to sidestep the environmental toll.

Lab-grown beef and chicken have been studied for a while, but few companies have forayed into seafood.

Steakholder Foods, an Israel-based biotech company, and a Singaporean cellular agriculture start-up, Umami Meats, are now developing the first lab-grown fish fillet using 3D printing techniques.

'Clean, transparent and antibiotics free'

"We've started to 3D-print fish products. The flakiness of the fish is something that is unique for fish. With our patent-protected printing capabilities, we know to 3D print exactly the same texture and flakiness of a real fish," said Arik Kaufman, CEO of Steakholder Foods.

Cells of endangered species, such as grouper and eel, are being used to cultivate muscle and fat.

They are then added to "bio-ink" to print a voluminous white finger-length fillet.

"The process is clean, it's transparent. The end product is antibiotics free and I assume that in the future, we will understand the health benefits of these cultivated meat products," said Kaufman.

The outcome has the flakiness of traditional fish and when fried and seasoned it is hard to tell the difference.

"It's really tasty," said Megumi Avigail Yoshitomi, representative director of the Japan Association for Cellular Agriculture, at a tasting event at Steakholder Foods's headquarters in Rehovot.

"I can feel the same - almost the same - experience of the fish structure in my mouth. And I'm also, really amazed by the juiciness and also the kind of a buttery feel in my mouth," she added.

Challenges matching real seafood

Although the process for lab-grown fish is easier than with beef, much less is known about fish than cow stem cells, according to Umami's chief executive, Mihir Pershad.

Cell cultivation alone is still too expensive to match the cost of traditional seafood, so for now the fish cells are diluted with plant-based ingredients in the bio-ink.

Kaufman hopes the complexity and level of the products will be higher, and production prices will decrease in the future.

"We want consumers to choose based on how it tastes and what it can do for the world and the planetary environment. And we want to take the cost off the table as consideration," Pershad added.

The first products are expected to enter the market next year in Singapore and then, pending regulation, in countries like the United States and Japan.


For more on this story, watch the video in the media player above.

Video editor • Roselyne Min

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