For most vegetarians, sushi options are limited to all-too-often lackluster California rolls. Maybe a tamago egg, if they’re lucky.
But as of late, vegetarians and vegans — or consumers who are just concerned about ocean overfishing — have several new options to swipe through their soy sauce. Ones composed entirely of plants, but which are made to fool you into thinking you’re eating raw fish.
First up is a new product from Ima, a plant-based food company. Just last week Ima released a sushi roll with a salmon substitute made of konjac, an Asian root vegetable with a gelatinous texture. Ima has twelve other products, including a vegan sushi burrito (sushi-rito?), but this is their first offering that’s really trying to imitate fish. We can’t speak to the taste, but the look is spot-on. Ima’s plant-based sushi is sold in U.K. retailers Planet Organic and Sourced Market.
For those who are more into tuna, Ocean Hugger Foods has “ahimi”: an alternative to raw ahi tuna made out of tomatoes, which they process to mimic the taste and texture of raw fish. Ahimi is available in roughly 90 sushi/poke restaurants and grocery retailers (including Whole Foods) across the U.S.
I got to sample sushi with ahimi a few months ago at the Alternative Protein Show in San Francisco. While it hit the same basic flavor notes as sushi — savory, clean, and just a tiny bit sweet — I wouldn’t say it would fool me into thinking it’s actually made of tuna. But compared to a bland California roll, ahimi sushi is light years more exciting.
Plant-based seafood innovation isn’t just happening on the raw side. Good Catch recently launched their plant-based tuna at Whole Foods, Sophie’s Kitchen has a canned “toona” made of konjac (the same ingredient in Ima), and New Wave Foods has a vegan shrimp product.
Of course, all these plant-based fish might become irrelevant once cultured seafood comes to market. Finless Foods has claimed it will start selling its cell-based bluefin tuna by the end of this year, and Wild Type is developing cultured salmon. On the crustacean front, Singapore-based startup Shiok Meats is about to have the first taste test of its cell-based shrimp.
But it’ll be a while before cultured fish hits the market and even longer before it’ll show up in our supermarket sushi. Until then, Ocean Hugger and Ima are smart to capitalize off of the booming plant-based food trend, especially in a space like sushi which currently has relatively few animal-free options. There are plenty of vegan burgers, sausages, and even canned fish (see above), but there hasn’t been a lot of innovation in making alternatives to raw fish.
Fair, it’s a lot harder to imitate the taste and texture of a slice of fatty raw tuna than a tin of cooked tuna fish. But early movers like Ocean Hugger and Ima have the chance to really get in on the ground floor stake a claim in what will likely be a booming market: plant-based fish.
If you get the chance to try ahimi or Ima’s new “salmon” sushi, give us a shout and let us know how you liked it!