Forsea Foods has focused on solving the seafood supply bottleneck, starting with eel meat
With the advent of cell-cultured seafood making waves, a new player has landed. FoodTech startup Forsea Foods has announced that it has taken this novel concept closer to natural perfection through its patented organoid technology.
Organoids, previously used in developmental biology, medicine and research, are stem cell-derived, three-dimensional tissue structures that require minimal amounts of growth factors when used in cell-cultured seafood products. The start-up announces that it is launching its activities by tackling the supply gaps in the eel meat market.
Unlike its wild counterparts, the resulting product is free from pollutants such as mercury, industrial chemicals and microplastics
The organoid approach to fish tissue formation, developed by Iftach Nachman, PhD, co-founder of Forsea, involves creating an ideal environment for fish cells to spontaneously form their natural composition of native fat and muscle. They grow as a three-dimensional tissue structure in the same way they would grow in a live fish.
Cell culture of fish in an organoid way
“While cell culturing largely focuses on a system of directed differentiation, where cells are signaled to differentiate into a specific cell type and then combined on a scaffold, our system grows the aggregate of the different cells early in the process .
The cells self-organize into their innate, intended structure, just as they do in nature,” explained Nachman, a senior researcher at Tel Aviv University.
The result is sustainably produced, succulent fillets of cultured seafood that embody the same flavor and textural characteristics as their sea-caught counterparts. However, unlike these counterparts, the resulting product is free from pollutants such as mercury, industrial chemicals and microplastics. Forsea claims they also share the same nutritional profile as traditionally farmed seafood. “This depends on how you feed the cells,” claimed Roee Nir, biotechnologist, CEO and co-founder of Forsea.
“The organoid method of cell culture in fish has several advantages,” added Nir. “First, it is a highly scalable platform that bypasses the scaffolding phase and requires fewer bioreactors. This makes the process much easier and cheaper. In addition, the amount of costly growth factors required is drastically reduced.”
Funded by The Kitchen FoodTech Hub, the start-up was founded last October with an initial injection of capital from the Israel Innovation Authority (IIA) and the Strauss Group. The new company brought together Nir, Nachman, and Yaniv Elkouby, PhD, a senior researcher at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and an expert in cell developmental biology, who spent many years studying fish biology.
Not so many fish in the sea
“Demand for seafood shows no signs of slowing down,” affirmed Amir Zaidman, VP of Business Development at The Kitchen Hub. “In fact, global demand is forecast to almost double by 2050. But we’re fast approaching the point where there simply won’t be enough fish in the ocean to feed the global community. Forsea’s innovative new cultivation platform has the potential to positively change this paradigm by providing a clean, nutritious, delicious and commercially viable alternative to wild-caught seafood while leaving the ocean’s delicate ecosystem completely untouched.”
One of the most striking characteristics of eels is that they are unable to breed in captivity
While Forsea can cultivate virtually any type of seafood, the company says its current focus is on cultivating freshwater eel meat.
“Eels are a coveted delicacy, especially in East Asia. However, overfishing in recent decades has made them an endangered species. The Japanese eel population alone has declined by 90% to 95%, which has driven prices to astronomical levels. Eel meat sells for up to US$70 per kilogram in Japan. They are also considered the ocean’s most mysterious creatures, undergoing an unusual metamorphosis,” revealed Nir.
The Mysterious Life of Eels
One of the most striking characteristics of eels is that they cannot reproduce in captivity, making their rearing for food all the more complex. Eels live most of their lives in fresh water, and when they are ready to reproduce, they swim 4,000 miles (6,500 km) into the deep sea to one of two very specific meeting points: the Sargasso Sea, near the Bermuda Triangle, or off Guam. And when they reproduce, they die. What returns with the help of ocean currents are two-gram baby eels.
These can be fished and raised in controlled tanks, where over the course of a year and a half they will turn into adult fish weighing 250g.
“The market demand for eels is huge,” adds Nir. “In 2000, the Japanese consumed 160,000 tons. But due to overfishing and rising prices, consumption has shrunk to just 30,000 tons. There is a huge gap between the supply and demand for eel that traditional aquafarming cannot fill. This problem is compounded by the fact that Europe has banned the export of any type of eel product. “The market opportunity for cell-cultured eels is enormous,” concluded Nir.