Dishes made from the meat of eels are popular in many Asian countries and beyond. But overfishing of eels has turned this aquatic delicacy into an endangered species, leaving suppliers struggling to keep up with the surging demand.
Forsea Foods of Rehovot is now saving wild eel populations from near extinction by unveiling its first prototype of cell-cultivated freshwater eel that has the same texture and flavor as the traditional Japanese unagi eel (Anguilla japonica).
Forsea was founded in 2021 with a mission to turn the tide on the downward spiral of the ocean’s seafood populations by developing cell-cultivated alternatives.
“This milestone marks a major leap in our journey to deliver delicious cultured seafood products,” claims Roee Nir, CEO and co-founder of Forsea.
“Forsea is pioneering the fusion of traditional, high-quality Asian cuisine with groundbreaking technology to create the world’s first cultured unagi—one that will provide the consumer with a genuine seafood experience without putting further strain on aquatic life.”
The eel prototype is the result of a project with executive chef Katsumi Kusumoto to create vegan versions of two popular traditional Japanese dishes – unagi kabayaki (marinated grilled eel over rice) and unagi nigiri (barbecued eel sushi).
Kusumoto runs the vegan restaurant SAIDO in Tokyo, which was voted the world’s best vegan restaurant in 2019 by the online restaurant guide Happy Cow.
“Unagi is an enduring favorite in Japan,” said Kusumoto. “Its timeless appeal, however, is impacted by a growing awareness among the Japanese population of the need to take a more sustainable approach. It’s been a thrilling journey to join forces with emerging innovators, and working together to deliver the traditional unagi indulgence with a clear eco-conscience.”
The working proof-of-concept — free from antibiotics, hormones or ocean pollutants — is now ready for scaleup by Forsea, winner of the Startup Pitch Hour Prize at the Asia-Pacific Agri-Food Innovation Summit last October in Singapore.
Forsea projects that its cultivated eel product will be ready for commercial launch in 2025 as it seeks strategic partners in Japan (the largest consumer of freshwater eel) and across Asia. Europe and the United States also are also on its radar as rapidly developing markets.
To accelerate progress, Forsea has expanded its team, forming new engineering and food applications departments. Nir has appointed Mayu Sugisaki as business development manager in Japan in order to cement its presence in the Asian food market.