With the sharp rise in the popularity of plant-based eating, a multitude of faux products, including vegan shrimp, has rapidly been launched in response to consumer demand. From vegan bacon made from tempeh and soy sauce to imitation chicken created entirely from mycoprotein, there are many creative ways to enjoy familiar tastes without the cost of an animal’s life.
Many people turning to vegan alternatives do so for allergy, ethical and health reasons. They want to reduce or even entirely eliminate their intake of animal products including eggs, honey and dairy produce. However, many of those turning towards a plant-based diet may still crave the authentic tastes and recognizable flavors they were once used to.
Happily, we can still enjoy tasty meals that are highly comparable to our previous favorites without any of the same ethical or nutritional concerns. For many vegans, faux alternatives are a perfect solution to the taste versus ethics debate. In the case of meat (beef, poultry, pork) there are plenty of delicious options ready and waiting.
When it comes to seafood, there are far fewer items available on the plant-based consumer market currently. It isn’t a new branch line, but there are considerably less products on the market in comparison to the likes of faux bacon. The most popular of the products accessible are typically freezer to oven goods including battered tofu, or replica breaded ‘salmon’ bakes.
Ultimately, it’s taking time for consumers to catch on to plant-based seafood. This is partly due to the fact that animal welfare concerns are more commonly related to land-based farming. Fish farming and overfishing are less commonly discussed in media in comparison to the welfare campaigns that take place in defense of cows, pigs, and poultry.
Further to this, many people choose the pathway of pescetarianism ahead of becoming full vegan or vegetarian. Social and ethical culture also has an influence. Seafood isn’t a food that is limited within the Muslim, Catholic or Jewish religious faiths in the way that beef or pork are, for example. Therefore, consumption is naturally greater with less need for a replica alternative.
Currently, there is a plentiful opportunity and a distinct need for innovative products to provide the plant-based seafood options that vegan and vegetarian consumers want. What has been a niche product line is gradually moving towards more mainstream viability. But there is still some work to be done to bring faux seafood products, such as imitation shrimp, to the wider culinary market.
Shrimp is an incredibly popular food product within the U.S.A and on the global market also. It is used in a variety of cuisines and a highly adaptable ingredient also. From traditional festive dishes to pot pies and sandwiches, it’s a fantastic ingredient for any budding chef. As a famous movie character once said, shrimp really can be used any way you want!
New Wave Foods are one of the companies launching their version of the popular seafood alternative. This Californian based start-up is keen to lead the way with its plant-based shrimp products. They pride themselves on their cruelty-free and highly-sustainable approach.
But what are these vegan shrimp fishy replicas really made of?
Interestingly, they are partially made of algae which is a natural aquatic plant. The rest of the ingredients are also plants, making these faux shrimps both sea friendly and plastic-free in addition. In fact, one of the main ingredients is sustainably sourced seaweed, allowing for the correct texture and flavor without the environmental impact.
Excitingly, there are some user-friendly ways to create plant-based shrimp using predominantly home kitchen products. Popular YouTuber ‘Sauce Stache’ recently dedicated a full video to exploring the potential of homemade shrimp using a creative blend of store-bought plant-based ingredients along with a few specialist additions:
1. Sodium Alginate Powder
Sodium alginate powder. Manufactured from brown seaweed, this ingredient is used to bind the vegan shrimp form together while adding a sea-based flavor into the mixture also.
2. Calcium Chloride
Calcium Chloride. This pellet based ingredient is blended with water to seal the outer layer in a faux ‘skin’ form. This can add a satisfying crispness or gentle crunch when the vegan shrimp are cooked.
3. Algae Oil
Algae oil. Similar to the New Wave vegan shrimp line, algae is a key ingredient used to add a mild but refreshing sea scent and flavor. It can be added to the vegan shrimp batter to add a distinctly fishy flavor.
4. Seaweed Noodles
Seaweed noodles. These can be picked up from any Asian supermarket and they are used to build the form and texture of the plant-based vegan shrimp.
5. Pea Protein Powder
Pea protein powder. As an alternative to using seaweed noodles, pea protein powder can be whipped along with a small amount of calcium chloride to create a stretchy gel-like structure that can be formed into shrimp shapes by hand.
6. Dried Kombu
Dried kombu. This dark-colored seaweed is used for flavoring. It is boiled before being used as a basis for the algae gel that helps to build the typically known shrimp form.
Beetroot. This is used to add the light pink coloring that we commonly associate with cooked shrimp. It can color the whole shrimp subtly or it can be used artistically to create shrimp-like shell lines similar to the real thing.
The joy of cooking is discovering new and incredible labor combinations that you’ll love to cook for yourself and others. This particular video guide offers a scientifically experimental approach to creating cruelty-free vegan shrimp that is both tasty and guilt-free. Shrimp molds entirely optional, of course!
One issue with creating seafood is achieving the soft, flaky, and altogether recognizable textures that our favorite seafood products have. Creative development such as the type demonstrated within the work of ‘Sauce Stache’ along with the pioneering work of the plant-based New Wave food company is certainly exciting steps in the right direction.
New Wave is proud to boast that their vegan shrimp is, “without slavery, bycatch, shellfish allergens, antibiotics, and ecosystem devastation” which is certainly a powerful move forwards in ethical sustainability. However, there are further considerations related to plant-based vegan shrimp production and consumption from more of an individual preference perspective.
Nutritionally, many people choose to eat seafood and fish products for health benefitting reasons. Fish oils are popular choices as food supplements for those suffering from arthritis and similar joint issues. The high protein versus low-fat content of most fish products also appeals to those hoping to eat an overall healthier diet.
Therefore, close alignment to these nutritional benefits for emerging plant-based seafood products is important if vegan versions are going to be a viable option for the wider market. If vegan shrimp is going to compete with popular meat-free products such as plant-based bacon or similar, then it must go the extra mile to offer what consumers want and need.
Of course, the vegan junk food movement is still very much going strong. Many consumers have no care or regard for nutrition and are more than happy to buy easy to cook products that taste great without concern for what it might be made out of. For ethical vegans with an appetite for great flavors, they will likely buy any product that looks and tastes anything close to their former fishy favorite.
Currently, faux seafood products are a micro sector within both the plant-based and global food supply chain. In America, plant-based seafood was responsible for a tiny 1% of all retail sales of plant-based meats in 2019, with vegan replica meats themselves only taking 1% of total meat sales for the country.
Only 1% of 1% of the total marketplace is certainly a small slice of the market. But with innovative product development from start-ups like New Wave and steadily increasing consumer demand for faux seafood, this all could change in the near future. In the meantime, a great deal of fun can be had trialing exciting new recipes both at home and in plant-based dining venues across America.
Perhaps you’re reading this article as a non-vegan with some curiosity about the possibilities of plant-based eating. Or you might be here because you have newly adopted a vegan diet and lifestyle and you’re keen to find out what delicious treats you can now enjoy as part of your newly discovered personal menu.
Whatever your motivation might be, experimenting with new vegan foods is undoubtedly a positive way to lessen the human impact on our planet going forwards. Perhaps there isn’t a perfect solution for vegan shrimp that is both mouth-watering and easily accessibly quite yet, but there soon will be. In the meantime, enjoy trying out the options.