What's the Deal with Plant-Based Seafood?
Have you tried plant-based seafood? The faux fish market is on the rise!
Take a peek at nearly every 2020 food trends list and you'll see an interesting new omega-3 option swimming onto the scene: plant-based seafood. Right on the heels of the plant-based meat (you've likely heard of—and maybe even tried—an Impossible or Beyond Burger), companies creating plant-based seafood are hoping to cut down on the environmental impact of animal production.
Considering the average American eats 16 pounds of seafood each year, with that number on the rise, that impact could be substantial. Especially since 90 percent of fisheries on the planet are over-exploited or have been destroyed due to overfishing, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program.
With more diners accepting alternatives, plant-based foods are expected to capture about 10 percent of the total meat market by the end of the decade, according to analysts at the financial firm Barclays.
What is plant-based seafood made from?
"A shift towards lower-carbon footprint protein sources is a good thing, I believe. Many of these plant-based seafoods contain seaweed, which is a Seafood Watch Best Choice," says Ryan Bigelow, the senior program manager for the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.
Seaweed provides that oceany umami element and a dose of plant-based omega-3 fats, while wheat protein, soy protein, lentil protein, mushrooms, and/or pea protein pump up the texture and satisfaction factor in many of these faux fish products.
Unlike many fish available on the market today, none of these plant-based seafood items contain mercury—a win for kids and expecting moms who are most at-risk for health issues related to high mercury exposure.
Why are companies creating plant-based seafood?
They're not just for vegans, or even vegetarians, explains Tara Rozalowsky, the vice president and general manager for Gardein in Chicago, Illinois.
"Plant-based meat and fish alternatives appeal to an increasingly diverse audience, ranging from vegans to Flexitarians to those who primarily eat meat but turn to plant-based alternatives at times," she says.
Fish alternatives are not quite as prolific as beef and chicken swaps, but the faux fish market is rapidly growing.
"Consumers within this space want variety; they don't want to settle for veggie burgers all the time. Given those considerations, we felt that our crabless cakes and fishless filets would be a welcome addition to our line-up," Rozalowsky says.
Real seafood and these substitutes are generally fairly similar nutritionally, although the plant-based protein tends to be slightly higher in carbohydrates and lower in protein.
What kinds of plant-based seafood are available?
If this idea has caught your attention, keep your eyes peeled for these other plant-based seafood products at the supermarket and on restaurant menus:
- Sophie's Kitchen: Toona, Vegan Smoked Salmon, Vegan Crab Cakes, Vegan Breaded Shrimp, Vegan Fish Fillets
- New Wave: Plant-Based Shrimp
- Good Catch: Plant-Based Fish Cakes, Plant-Based Crab Cakes, Plant-Based Fish Burgers, Fish-Free Tuna
- Plant-Based Foods: Cavi-Art
- Loma Linda: Tuno
- Ocean Hugger Foods: Ahimi (raw tuna replacement), Unami (eel substitute)
The bottom line: "The issues of ocean health and sustainable seafood are complicated, with no single solution. That said, creative ideas that expand our palate to more environmentally-sustainable options are important and welcome," Bigelow says.
If you still want to eat standard seafood, visit SeafoodWatch.org to find out which items are "Best Choice" based on their overall environmental impact.
"Or even just ask questions about the sustainability of your seafood. Businesses frequently raise consumer demand as the reason they are moving towards more sustainable options, so your questions are having an impact," Bigelow says.