The food 3D printing segment is beginning to transform what we eat using a fraction of the resources that the food industry tends to demand. One of the most interesting emerging trends revolves around meat-free steaks, burgers, and chicken products. Many ventures are undertaking the difficult task of printing plant-based foods that mimic the texture, color, and taste of real meat products. Yet, fish has been very difficult to imitate, especially its characteristic tender flaky texture, as well as the rather full, strong, sometimes salty flavor that is very easily distinguished. A few up and coming companies have created vegan sushi look-alikes, and we’ve heard of lab-grown 3D printed fish, but now, a new startup in Europe has recently 3D printed plant-based salmon and tuna fillets as part of a broader aim to reinvent plant-based seafood.
Based in Vienna, Austria, the Legendary Vish company wants to produce sustainable plant-based “fish” using 3D printing. From the get-go, company founders Robin Simsa, Theresa Rothenbücher, and Hakan Gürbüz focused on products that allow environmentally conscious consumers to enjoy plant-based fish without the downsides of fishing, such as overfishing, marine pollution and bycatching.
Global per capita fish consumption has risen to above 20 kilograms a year and has kept on climbing since 2016, due to stronger aquaculture supply and firm demand. Nonetheless, this increasing demand is considered to be unsustainable, especially when destructive fishing techniques ruin vital fish breeding grounds like coral reefs and seagrass meadows. Moreover, the use of plant-based ingredients allows a significantly more climate-friendly production compared to the conventional fish industry, which is responsible for about five percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the food industry.
While responsible consumption is difficult to achieve for a large part of the world population, Legendary Vish is aiming to supply a new choice to the growing demand for sea-based food.
Plant-based meat substitute products have been rapidly growing in popularity in the past years and the segment has been forecasted to reach 30.92 billion dollars by 2026. However, the startup has claimed that the market for plant-based fish substitutes is still not very developed and that competitors in this area mostly offer untextured products, like fish sticks and canned tuna, which they consider to have obvious differences when compared to the structure of conventional whole fish.
In a statement, the founders indicated how “3D printing allows us to recreate the consistency and appearance of different fish species in detail in order to give environmentally conscious consumers the opportunity to enjoy tasty, attractive, and sustainable fish.”
According to the vegan business magazine vegconomist, Legendary Vish, which is currently in the pre-seed stage, had previously developed a 3D printing process for medical applications, which could be easily adopted for food printing. The products will be based on mushroom and pea proteins, which form a fish-like consistency thanks to gelling agents, including starch and agar-agar, and a rich flavor with fats such as avocado or seed/nut oil – that also add valuable Omega-3 fatty acids. The media site also reported that the company hopes to use plant-based salmon fillets starting in 2022, to attract customers who love the taste of fish but want a sustainable alternative to industrial fishing, with tuna and other seafood to follow.
The newly developed firm will continue its production process as part of the GreenStart incubator – an Austrian initiative that aims to find green business ideas in the areas of energy efficiency, renewable energies, mobility, and agriculture. Greenstart will be offering Legendary Vish, as well as nine other startups, expert support through the Impact Hub Vienna network for a period of six months.
The founders met as Marie Curie Early Stage Researchers (ESRs) for the international European Union-led research project Training4CRM while exploring cell-based regenerative medicine. They had previously developed 3D printing processes for medical technology during their Ph.D. projects, and as they have noted, small adaptations to their platform were possible for 3D printing plant proteins and binders into a realistic, structured form.
Thanks to the combined expertise of Gürbüz, a bioengineer; Simsa, biomedical engineering, and Rothenbücher, a molecular and applied biotechnology expert, their customized food printing project is proving to have a lot of potential, although it might take a few more years before they can successfully commercialize the end product, a fish filet that mimics all the qualities of the real fish meat. As we can see above the 3D printing element is currently rudimentary. However, Simsa’s work in ECMs & Decellularization and recellularization as well as protein production Rothenbücher’s work in fish and 3D cultures bodes well for the company. Gürbüz’s expertise in 3D scaffolds and work as an R&D engineer at Dutch 3D Printed manufacturer Felixprinters is the icing on the cake for what looks like a uniquely experienced young team.
For the time being, Legendary Vish founders are looking for seed investment to finance their prototype development, which they expect will require 200,000 Euros; as well as food scientists and 3D printing experts, and office space to move their laboratories in order to proceed with their business idea.
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