Foodtech Startup Bluenalu Grows Yellowtail Fish Entirely From Cells

Ivana V. Image
ByIvana V.
December 27,2019
San Diego startup BlueNalu managed to grow yellowtail fish fillets entirely from cells, achieving a long-term goal of the food-tech industry to manufacture a heat-resilient seafood product.

At San Diego Bay, a chef prepared yellowtail fish in a variety of ways, from poke and seafood bisque to fish tacos in front of a small group of people. What makes this local event newsworthy is the fact that the yellowtail was lab-grown.

The latest feat of a cellular aquaculture company called BlueNalu is an important scientific achievement and a step forward for the food-tech industry. The San Diego startup, founded less than two years ago, successfully grew the yellowtail fish in its food manufacturing facility.

BlueNalu and other companies in the niche intend to meet the demand for real fish products while addressing the environmental concerns of mass fishing.

The company’s co-founders Lou Cooperhouse and Chris Dammann understand that the general public is unfamiliar with the process of growing food through cell cultures in laboratories. However, they say that lab-made seafood is no more unnatural than, for example, Greek yogurt, which also requires the culturing of cells.

“We are not any more ‘lab-made’ than ketchup or Oreos,” said Chris Dammann, BlueNalu’s CTO, in an interview earlier this year. “They all started in a lab.”

What makes BlueNalu’s fish fillets different from other cell-based seafood products is the ability to withstand high temperatures and various cooking techniques. This characteristic gives it a competitive edge over other science startups like the San Francisco-based Wild Type.

Earlier this year, Wild Type organized a similar cooking event where a chef prepared their lab-grown salmon. However, Wild Type’s salmon falls apart when cooked at high temperatures.

“Our medallions of yellowtail can be cooked via direct heat, steamed or even fried in oil; can be marinated in an acidified solution for applications like poke, ceviche, and kimchi, or can be prepared in the raw state,” BlueNalu’s CEO Lou Cooperhouse said in a statement.

“This is an enormous accomplishment, and we don’t believe that any other company worldwide has been able to demonstrate this level of product performance in a whole-muscle seafood product thus far,” Cooperhouse added.

Producing lab-grown seafood in large quantities is the next big scientific challenge BlueNalu and other industry players face in the future. Researchers and startups have been working on this issue for a while now to no avail. Manufacturing even the small quantities of yellowtail fish for the demonstration was considerable attainment.

“This was an extraordinary technical feat,” Dammann said in a statement. “When we started this company, there was very little available science on the long-term propagation of fish muscle cells and no reliable culture protocol. To create a whole-muscle product from fish cells that are grown without genetic modification required considerable innovation. Scientifically, the achievement of going from blank canvas to food product so quickly cannot be understated. We are now ready to focus on our next phase of growth to increase production volume.”

BlueNalu expects to launch its products onto a test market in the next two years, with the addition of other finfish species like mahi-mahi and red snapper.

About the author

Ivana is a staff writer at SmallBizGenius. Her interests during office hours include writing about small businesses, start-ups, and retail. When the weekend comes, you can find her hiking in nature, hanging off of a cliff or dancing salsa.

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