Plant-Based Shrimp Promises A Bright Future For Sustainable Seafood

Americans love shrimp.

How much, you may wonder? So much that they eat about four pounds of the crustacean per person per year, according to Seafood Health Facts. But as we've learned time and time again, loving something that much is rarely good for the planet.

Americans' and Europeans' shrimp-heavy diet has contributed to pollution and ecological destruction, and much of the shrimp they eat is farmed by slaves.

New Wave Foods, a San Francisco startup pushing for sustainable seafood, has developed a food to change that, Munchies reports.

It's called fake shrimp. It's shaped like the crustacean and closely mimics its color and texture, but it's made solely of algae and plants.

People can't tell it apart from the real thing, said Dominique Barnes, New Wave Foods co-founder and CEO.

"When you bite a shrimp, there’s the first snap, then it gets juicy, and then there’s a fibrous breakdown," she said. "We spent a lot of time trying to recreate that experience."

"Right now, when we do demos, most people are really surprised that it’s not real shrimp."

Barnes said she and her co-founder looked carefully at what shrimp eat to figure out how to recreate them. Significant in their diet is red algae, which helps give shrimp their reddish coloring.

The micro algae became the building block of the faux shrimp.

Consuming lab-grown shrimp is beneficial for the environment -- and for the southeastern Asian countries that harvest much of the world's shrimp -- but Barnes said the plant-based food has a host of nutritional benefits as well.

They're free of the hormones and chemicals needed to farm animal shrimp in tight spaces. They're also cholesterol-free, while real shrimp and shellfish are high in cholesterol.

And since they're not real shellfish, they're fair game for people with shellfish allergies or those on a kosher diet.

"Shellfish allergies are one of the top food allergies in the country, and they are adult-onset allergies," Barnes said. "So with our shrimp, people diagnosed with a shellfish allergy can continue to eat a food they love. So that's a new market opportunity."

Since the shrimp are tailless, the cooking process is free of de-veining and de-shelling. Barnes said she likes to make them in the toaster oven and dip them in chipotle mayonnaise.

As for other popular shellfish like crab and lobster? New Wave Foods sees a future there, but later.

"We’re laser-focused on shrimp right now," Barnes said. "We really want to deliver a product that knocks it out of the park."

After successful taste testings in Google's cafeteria and other events in San Francisco, the company is working toward a mass-market release of sustainable shrimp.