Ocean Hugger Foods has developed a plant-based raw tuna alternative made from tomato and a vegan freshwater eel product made from aubergine. Both products are slated for entry into the UK’s foodservice market this Autumn.
Chef James Corwell co-founded Ocean Hugger in 2015 with sustainability in mind. Following a trip to Japan in the early 2000s, where he visited Tokyo’s famous Tsukiji fish market, Corwell asked himself just how much longer the world’s oceans – responsible for packing the market’s warehouses full of fish – could continue to supply growing populations.
According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), time is running out. Recent statistics reveal that less than 10% of fisheries have the capacity for larger harvests, and 33.1% are overfished.
Global warning - whereby the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere gradually increases due to increased levels of carbon dioxide, CFCs and other pollutants – also poses a threat to ocean life. Indeed, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) says global warming is likely to be the greatest cause of species extinctions this century.
On returning from Asia, Crowell set about making a plant-based alternative to the fresh tuna he saw crowding the Tsukiji market.
‘Meaty’ and ‘fishlike’
The Ahimi raw tuna alternative achieves a 'fishlike texture' thanks to Ocean Hugger’s patent-pending process, the company’s VP of global marketing, Ashley Bouldin, told FoodNavigator.
And its ‘meaty’ flavour can be attributed to the product’s key ingredient: the Roma tomato. “Tomatoes contain high levels of naturally-occurring glutamic acids, which are responsible for the savoury flavour of meaty foods,” she explained. “Ocean Hugger’s method enhances the savoury quality of the tomato while keeping the ingredient list simple and natural.”
Indeed, the recipe lists recognisable and pronounceable household ingredients, such as tomato, soy sauce, sugar, water and sesame oil. “The result is a naturally meaty texture that looks and tastes like ahi tuna.”
Ahimi is gluten-free, safe for pregnant women, and can be used in a variety of dishes including sushi, nigiri, sashimi, ceviche, tartare and poké.
Ocean Hugger followed up its Ahimi invention with a plant-based eel, or unagi. The plant-based unagi, made from aubergine, similarly uses the company’s proprietary technology to alter the texture of the vegetable “to resemble the firm texture of freshwater eel”, said Bouldin.
The eggplant is then marinated in a mixture of gluten-free soy sauce, mirin, and algae oil, which imparts an umami flavour.
“The result is a ready-to-use product great for sushi and rice bowls, as well as more innovative dishes like Japanese-style pizzas and tacos,” we were told.
The firm is also developing a carrot-based alternative to salmon, which it has called Sakimi.
Targeting ‘even the most discerning palettes’
Ocean Hugger is backing its products to not only cater to vegans seeking fish substitutes but to “please even the most discerning palettes” – including omnivores and flexitarians.
The launch comes as flexitarianism hits new highs in the UK. According to Mintel data, one in three (34%) British meat eaters reduced their meat consumption in the six months leading up to July 2018. The UK also recently overtook Germany as the nation with the highest number of new vegan products launched.
“As more people reduce their meat intake, they experiment with more plant-based dishes catering for their flexitarian lifestyles – whether at home, on-the-go or in restaurants,” said global food and drinks analyst at Mintel, Edward Began, earlier this year. “Moreover, consumers are becoming more willing than ever to expand their comfort zones, push themselves to the limit with new experiences and use social media to compete with and offer inspiration to their peers.”
Ocean Hugger’s aim is to develop products 'so delicious' that if flexitarians or omnivores were unaware they were eating a 100% plant-based alternative, “they’d never even miss the fish that our products are meant to replace”, said Bouldin.
“Our products are great for those who are actively trying to eat plant-based for whatever reason - whether they choose to avoid fully, just sometimes or otherwise cannot eat seafood.
“We want everyone to be able to partake in the joys of the culinary experience without compromising their health, values or preferences.”
UK consumers will be able to try Ahimi at Harro Food's Japan Food Show 12-14 July 2019 as part of London's Hyper Japan event.