Pull over, shrimp: It’s algae’s turn in the breading lane. A new shrimp substitute, made of red algae, offers a delicious alternative for foodies concerned about the ethical implications of buying the real stuff.
And those “ethical implications” aren't just about eating animals. They are also concerns about environmental destruction, shocking amounts of bycatch (we lose up to 20 pounds of other sea creatures to catch one pound of shrimp), human trafficking, and slave labor.
Enter New Wave Foods, a start-up co-founded by marine conservationist Dominique Barnes and materials scientist Michelle Wolf. Recognizing that our love for popcorn shrimp is not going to go away any time soon, the two decided to find a way to make it more sustainable.
Engineered animal products are currently having a moment. Between lab-grown meat and the myriad plant-based substitutions appearing in supermarket freezers, consumers seem more open than ever to the idea of eating meat that’s never been anywhere near an animal, and food scientists have gotten pretty good at replicating the real thing.
Also having a moment? Algae. Researchers have really begun to recognize the diverse potential of these aquatic plants, which are already being considered as alternatives to jet fuel and plastic bottles. In the wild, algae also serves as the base of many food chains. In fact, algae is the reason flamingos are pink—they feed on shrimp, which feed on red algae.
So when it came time for Barnes and Wolf to find raw materials for their planet-friendly shrimp, algae seemed like, ahem, a natural choice. They developed a recipe that combines red algae’s rosy hue and briny flavor with plant protein powders, which give the shrimp its chewy snap.
Image Credit: New Wave Foods
“We’re not reproducing shrimp cells,” Barnes told The Atlantic. “We use a process that's similar to baking a loaf of bread.”
The company has found enthusiastic support from both investors and potential customers. Google’s employee cafeteria has already sampled the product and intends to start serving it as soon as it’s available, which could be as soon as fall 2016.
Barnes and Wolf expected their product to catch on among ethically conscious eaters. They didn’t consider that it might also be a huge hit on the kosher market. Kosher law prohibits eating any sea creature without fins and scales, which means that people who have kept kosher all their lives have never eaten shrimp. However, some rabbis argue that eating something that looks like shrimp is still a bad idea.
With buy-in from backers, consumers, and, presumably, shrimp themselves*, New Wave Foods may have just found a tartar-sauce-worthy solution.
*No shrimp were available for comment on this article.
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