Ocean Hugger Foods' new plant-based eel sushi.

There will be aisles and aisles of new technology to see and taste at this weekend’s National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago. But I’m willing to bet my bottom dollar that there will only be one plant-based eel sushi.

Ocean Hugger Foods is debuting its new vegan eel, called unami at the show this weekend. It’s made from eggplant, which the company processes to imitate the texture of eel, as well as soy sauce, mirin, and algae oil for flavor.

This will be the second product from the New York-based startup, which already makes ahimia plant-based alternative to raw tuna made from tomatoes. (Next up they’re launching a vegan “salmon” made from carrots to be called sakimi.)

The company hasn’t announced when or where its unami will be sold. I’m guessing it’ll join sushi lineups alongside their ahimi, which is available in around 90 restaurants and grocery stores, including Whole Foods.

A few months ago I predicted that vegan sushi — that is, sushi that uses realistic plant-based raw fish, not just California rolls — would become a growing market. Ocean Hugger Foods isn’t the only one in the space: across the pond in the U.K., plant-based food company Ima is selling sushi made with a vegan salmon substitute.

Eel isn’t quite as popular a sushi selection as tuna or salmon, but it’s rapidly disappearing due to climate change and overfishing. In fact, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch List lists eel as “one of the worst seafood choices from an environmental perspective.”

It may not be America’s #1 sushi choice, but the New York-based company is smart to diversify its product range before other companies jump in and stake their claim with plant-based sashimi. Plus, since eel is chiefly consumed in Japan and China, maybe this product will help Ocean Hugger Food expand into the plant-based protein-hungry Asian market.

If you’re in Chicago this weekend and have a chance to sample Ocean Hugger Foods’ unami, leave us a comment and tell us what you thought.

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