ETH Zurich researchers develop seafood alternatives made from microalgae


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With other vegetable protein sources also such as soya and peas

Food technologist Lukas Böcker and food chemist Severin Eder, researchers from ETH Zurich university, work on developing a platform for producing seafood based on microalgae. Plus the judicious admixture of other vegetable protein sources such as soya and peas.

During the ETH Zurich doctoral program, both collaborated and saw the potential for a longer-term partnership. “Lukas had been looking into using microalgae for food production for quite a while. I was working on the chemistry and alternative uses of waste in the food industry,” Eder explained. The perfect symbiosis.

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Consequently, they got one of ETH’s coveted Pioneer Fellowships in August 2021. They received 150,000 Swiss francs of seed capital and coaching to help ETH start-ups. “The best thing about the fellowship is everything else that comes with it – the infrastructure, the contacts, the support,” Böcker confirmed.

To sum up, the project seeks to replicate authentic seafood. “We’re focusing on seafood because better solutions have already been developed for plant-based fish,” Eder stated.

So, their first product would be microalgae-based prawns. According to the researchers just Switzerland alone consumes 7,000 tonnes of prawns a year. In other words, only tuna and pangasius are more popular.

Looking for the right flavour, texture and nutritional character

Now, the biggest challenge is to recreate the sensation of biting into the firm, muscular flesh of a real prawn. “We’re currently experimenting with various processing and biotech methods,” Böcker noted.

Despite standard methods for processing plant-based feedstocks exist, in the case of microalgae more research is needed, the food technologist advised.

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Severin Eder and Lukas Böcker in the lab – Stefan Weiss

Further, production and market launch will come when they achieve the right flavor, texture, and nutritional character, probably at the end of the year. They work in an extrusion process featuring specially formed nozzles to structure and shape the mixture.

On the other hand, Böcker predicted: “In two to three years, I’m pretty certain there’s going to be a lot more plant-based fish and seafood around than there is today.”

Finally, Eder concluded: “With the technology and the platform we’ve developed, we’ll achieve not only an authentic taste and texture with a microalgae-based product but also the nutritional qualities you get with fish and seafood.”

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