Researchers create 3D-printed vegan seafood

Air-frying a 3D-printed plant-based calamari ring resulted in a quick, tasty snack. Credit: Poornima Vijayan

In the refrigerated grocery store aisle, the variety of meat alternatives far exceeds the options for plant-based seafood. However, the need for more mock seafood arises due to unsustainable fishing and aquaculture practices that deplete the supply and harm the environment.

Scientists have now introduced a novel approach to creating appealing vegan seafood replicas that not only taste good but also maintain the health benefits of real fish. They utilized a protein ink made from microalgae and mung bean protein, which they 3D-printed into calamari rings that can be air-fried for a quick and delicious snack. These findings will be presented at the fall meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).

Poornima Vijayan, a graduate student presenting the work at the meeting, emphasizes the imminent possibility of a limited seafood supply. She states, “We need to be prepared from an alternative protein point of view, especially here in Singapore, where over 90% of the fish is imported.”

Although seafood is widely consumed globally, the oceans are not an unlimited resource. Overfishing has caused the depletion of numerous wild fish populations. Concerns regarding sustainability, heavy-metal and microplastic contamination, and ethical issues have led some consumers to seek plant-based alternatives. However, it remains challenging for seafood lovers to find suitable options.

While some mock seafood products, such as imitation crabmeat made from minced and reshaped pollock or other white fish, are already available in the market, creating seafood replicas from plants has proven difficult. It is challenging to achieve the same nutritional content, unique textures, and mild flavors of cooked fish meat using vegetables or fungi.

Dejian Huang, Ph.D., the principal investigator of this research, explains, “Plant-based seafood replicas are available, but they usually lack protein. We aimed to develop protein-based products that are nutritionally equivalent to or better than real seafood, addressing the issue of food sustainability.”

In recent studies, Huang and his research group at the National University of Singapore utilized legume protein to improve seafood replicas. They achieved the flakiness and mouthfeel of real fish by 3D printing a protein-based ink using a food-grade 3D printer. The layer-by-layer deposition of the edible ink created different textures, including fatty and smooth as well as fibrous and chewy, within a single product.

Credit: American Chemical Society

“We printed salmon fillets using protein from red lentils due to the protein’s color, and we’ve also printed shrimp,” says Huang. “Now, we aimed to print something else interesting with potential for commercialization—calamari rings.”

In this study, the team experimented with two sustainable, high-protein plant sources: microalgae and mung beans. Some microalgae possess a natural “fishy” taste, making them a suitable choice for the squid-ring analog. Mung bean protein, on the other hand, is an underutilized byproduct from the manufacturing of starch noodles, known as cellophane or glass noodles, which are popular in many Asian dishes.

The researchers extracted microalgae and legume proteins in the laboratory and combined them with plant-based oils containing omega-3 fatty acids. The resulting high-protein vegan paste had a nutritional profile similar to that of calamari rings made from squid. The paste was then subjected to temperature changes, enabling it to be easily extruded from a 3D printer’s nozzles and layered into rings. Finally, the team evaluated the taste, smell, and appearance of the finished rings.

While 3D printing provided the seafood mimic with structure and texture, consumers would still need to bake, fry, or sauté it, just like real squid. To test this, Vijayan air-fried some of the samples, simulating their preparation as a snack. The researchers found the plant-based calamari to have an acceptable taste and promising texture properties.

Before conducting consumer tests, Vijayan aims to optimize the product further. She states, “The goal is to achieve the same texture and elasticity as commercially available calamari rings. I am studying how the composition affects the product’s elasticity and overall sensory properties.”

Although this plant-based replica may provide a seafood alternative for individuals with mollusk allergies, which includes squid, Huang acknowledges that potential sensitivities to its ingredients are still unknown. He comments, “There are currently few known cases of allergies to microalgae proteins or mung bean proteins. However, it is a new combination, so we cannot be certain.”

In the near future, the research team plans to develop multiple prototypes and evaluate their feasibility for large-scale food manufacturing. Huang predicts that these calamari-like products could be available in fine-dining restaurants or specialty outlets within the next few years. Vijayan concludes, “I believe people will enjoy our plant-based replica. It offers the novelty of a seafood taste sourced solely from sustainable plant-based ingredients.”

More information:
Effects of microalgae and mung bean protein combination on 3D printing of seafood analogs, ACS Fall 2023.

Provided by
American Chemical Society

Researchers create 3D-printed vegan seafood (2023, August 13)
retrieved 13 August 2023

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