For many Western consumers, “fish maw” is an unfamiliar foodstuff. However, in China and other surrounding regions, the ingredient, which is technically the dried swim bladders of large fish like sturgeon, is considered a delicacy. For that reason, it’s both extremely expensive and leading to extreme overfishing. There’s even a black market for the stuff.
In Hong Kong, startup Avant Meats is finding a more sustainable way to feed hunger for fish maw by growing it outside the animal. The company got one step closer to that goal last month, when they did the first public taste test of their cultured fish maw at the Future Food Summit at Asia Society Hong Kong.
The fish maw, grown from cells from a croaker fish, was embedded in a potato ball which was then deep-fried. Obviously we didn’t get to taste it ourselves (sadly), but in a video sent to The Spoon taste testers noted the ball’s chewy, gelatinous texture, a hallmark of fish maw. Texture is one of the biggest hurdles for cell-based meat, so if Avant Meats has indeed nailed it that could serve them well as they head to market.
When I spoke with Avant Meats co-founder and CEO Carrie Chan back in March, she explained that they had decided to focus on fish maw as their first product because of it’s simple composition, which allows them to speed up R&D, scale quickly, and come to market at a lower price point. Another reason they chose to focus on fish maw is because of its popularity with consumers in China and Hong Kong, their initial target demographic. However, according to a press release sent to The Spoon, their next product will be a fish filet that is intended for both Eastern and Western menus.
This year has been a busy one for cultured meat companies in Asia. Back in March Shiok Meat debuted its cell-based shrimp in the startup’s home country of Singapore, and Japan-based Integriculture recently did a taste test of cultured foie gras.
American companies like Memphis Meats, JUST, and Wild Type have also done several tastings of their own cell-based products, some on significantly larger scales. However, since cell-based (cultivated?) meat will likely debut in Asia, it’s exciting to see the increase in cultured meat and seafood activity in the area — especially for products developed specifically to appeal to Asian palates.
Avant Meats has raised an undisclosed pre-seed round and has a team of five in its Hong Kong HQ. They’re hoping to reach pilot production by late 2022/early 2023.