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Fi Europe 2022

Innovative ingredients drive plant-based alternative seafood [Interview]

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Plant-based alternative seafood is brimming with innovation. Replicating the taste of soft, flaky fish using banana blossom is just one example ingredients suppliers are coming up with. “It is still relatively new compared to meat alternatives and I think that we will start to see new developments” says technical specialist, Carole Bingley
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As senior associate principal scientist at Reading Scientific Services Ltd (RSSL), Carole Bingley undertakes both ingredient evaluation and product development projects for food manufacturers and ingredient suppliers across a wide range of food categories. She will be speaking at Fi Ingredients Europe, held this year in Paris from 6 – 8 December and from 28 November to 8 December online, on the topic ‘Innovation in the area of alternatives to fish and seafood.’ We caught up with her ahead of the event to find out more.

Vegan seafood has been an untapped market until now. Why do you think there has been more financial investment in plant milk and meat substitutes in recent years?

“Health has been a big driver for consumers in moving to plant-based products, [and] fish and seafood are generally considered to be healthy food products. However, consumers are becoming more aware of the impact of overfishing and concern about levels of heavy metals and microplastics is increasing, this in turn is resulting in more consumers looking for a plant-based alternative to fish and seafood.”

Konjac powder is emerging as a key ingredient for faux fish and vegan versions of seafood. What other ingredients do you think will be important for innovation in this area?

“In terms of texture and gelling, I think that ingredients derived from seaweed, particularly alginate, have a good fit with the sector. Algae-based ingredients are also really interesting in fish and seafood alternatives, and I think that we will see these ingredients being used more widely.”

What are some interesting ingredients that can replicate the soft, flaky texture of fish?

“This is a huge challenge for developers. We have seen ingredients such as banana blossom and jackfruit being used in this sector. These ingredients can provide a good texture but are much lower in protein than fish. Texturised proteins are used widely in meat alternatives, and these can be a good basis for a vegan alternative but there are some limitations.

“As mentioned, the vegan fish and seafood sector is still relatively new compared to meat alternatives and I think that we will start to see new developments from ingredient suppliers which are designed specifically for this sector.“

Is flavour a challenge too or do natural fish flavours perform well?

“Flavour is a challenge because there are often flavours, for example vegetable notes, bitterness, which are contributed by the base ingredients. These need to be masked before adding the characterizing flavour which tends to be more subtle than the flavours used typically in meat alternatives. A strong fish aroma and flavour can be quite off-putting, so it is important to try and achieve a good balance.”

Are there any plant-based fish or seafood products that have caught your eye?

“Up until fairly recently, most alternatives have been battered or coated in breadcrumbs. Whilst I think that there is a role for these products, I am excited to see other options such as Seabloom ‘Tuna-Free’ Flakes and Zeastar Zalmon Sashimi coming to the market.”

What ingredient or formulation options are there for manufacturers to ensure their plant-based products are as nutritious as real fish?

“Formulating to a comparable protein content can be challenging because of the impact on colour, flavour, and texture, however, I think that this will become more and more important in this sector. White chlorella is one approach to boost protein content in these products.

“Omega-3 is also added to a number of market products, and this can be achieved through addition of high omega-3 oils such as flax oil. In the EU and UK, algal oil has novel food approval so it is important to confirm with your supplier that the algal oil can be used in your development.

“Fish and seafood tend to be a good source of iodine, seaweed ingredients can be used as a source of iodine in plant-based alternatives.”

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