The first plant-based oyster prototype in the world—made by cell-cultured seafood start-up Pearlita Foods—looks and tastes exactly like a regular oyster. The oyster in the prototype has a clean, delicate, and real ocean flavor and texture thanks to the use of plant-based and cell-based technology, a secret mushroom and seaweed basis, and Pearlita’s innovative flavor blend. The business also intends to develop shuck-free, biodegradable oyster shells that would deliver the same flavor as traditional oysters while simplifying serving and consumption for customers.
In an effort to satisfy consumer demand for delicacies originating from the ocean while also protecting the oceans, Pearlita began developing an oyster substitute earlier this year. The business will launch its hybrid product first while working to create the cell lines necessary to produce a line of completely cultivated oysters. Pearlita uses cells it has isolated from an oyster tissue sample to nurture oysters, using those cells to create thousands of cultured oysters.
The firm Pearlita will introduce its hybrid plant-based oyster using recycled oyster shells for its showcasing and tastings while it continues to research and develop cultured oysters and biodegradable shells. Many coastal municipalities in North Carolina, where Pearlita’s headquarters are located, provide shell recycling drop-off places so that the shells can be used to create new oyster reefs rather than being disposed of in landfills.
According to Pearlita, overfishing has resulted in the loss of approximately 85% of the world’s wild oyster reefs. In order for traditional oysters to continue existing in the oceans and sustaining healthy ecosystems, Pearlita is working to make cultured oysters and other cell-based seafood widely available. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also warns that bivalve shellfish from the ocean, like clams, geoducks, mussels, scallops, and oysters, might spread norovirus to anyone who consumes them. These disease outbreaks, which are sometimes fatal, are most frequently connected to oysters.
By employing stem cells and bioreactors to create nutrient- and flavor-rich cell-based oysters, the business hopes to make oysters without using the ocean or live animals. Cultivated seafood is also free of bacterium and virus contamination because it is produced in a sterile environment. In the future, Pearlita intends to create prototypes for squid and scallops and work on increasing production.
In order to scale up its prototype, the cellular aquaculture startup recently received funding from the investment group CULT Food Science. “We are impressed and pleased with Pearlita’s accomplishment in producing its first prototype grown oyster. We share the same ideals, therefore Pearlita’s dedication to improving the world and doing its part to boost global food security is promising,” said Lejjy Gafour, CEO of CULT, in a statement. “Pearlita is making remarkable strides toward expanding the mass production of farmed seafood. The beneficial contributions that their team is bringing to the cellular agriculture sector inspire us.
Other food technology startups are tackling fish species like tuna—which is the most consumed fish in the United States—while Pearlita is concentrating on producing moral and sustainable seafood alternatives to ocean delights like oysters. Similar to Pearlita, Finless Foods is using plants and cultured cells to produce sustainable fish, beginning with tuna that will be sold to restaurants and other foodservice outlets this year.
Earlier this year, at the Food Network & Cooking Channel South Beach Wine & Food Festival in Miami, Finless Foods featured its plant-based tuna in a poke bowl and tacos for guests. Nine unique plant-based ingredients are combined to create the product, which has the texture and flavor of sushi-grade tuna and can resist the addition of citrus and marinades.
“Tuna plays an important role in ocean health and has historically been a difficult species for aquaculture… We felt that developing viable alternatives would yield the greatest net impact for our ocean,” said Finless Foods co-founder Brian Wyrwas.
BlueNalu, situated in San Diego, is another competitor in the cellular aquaculture market. It is attempting to create fish alternatives made of cells, including yellowtail amberjack, which it tasted in a private tasting in 2019. Wild Type, a San Francisco-based business in cellular aquaculture, is also focused on developing sushi-grade meat from a small number of fish cells. The company’s prototype facility started operating in 2021, and Wild Type plans to construct a tasting restaurant nearby where its farmed fish will be featured in conventional (but more sustainable) sushi dishes.
In Singapore, Shiok Meats, the nation’s first cell-based seafood firm, cultivates crab and lobster. Singapore is currently the only nation in the world to permit the selling of meat from domesticated animals. In December 2020, GOOD Meat, a division of Eat Just, received approval for the sale of chicken raised there.
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