This Startup Is Making Lab-Grown Shrimp to End Slavery and Corruption in the Industry

This Startup Is Making Lab-Grown Shrimp to End Slavery and Corruption in the Industry
Source: Flickr
Source: Flickr

To combat unsustainable labor and environmental corruption within the shrimp industry, startup New Wave Foods has been perfecting creating shrimp out of "plant-based protein powder" and red algae in labs, according to the Atlantic. Its first product, which will be a breaded popcorn shrimp, will be hitting the market in just eight months.

From shrimp scampi to popcorn shrimp, Americans love the sea critter. In 2011, shrimp was the most popular seafood in the nation. But shrimp also has an ugly backstory.

In places like Thailand, shrimp exporting is a major business, playing a big role in the nation's seafood industry, which is worth $7 billion. In turn, human trafficking and unfit working conditions have plagued the nation, as fishermen and factory workers slave over capturing and cleaning the shrimp for international grocery stores and restaurants.

New Wave Foods co-founder Dominique Barnes said their lab created alternative is faster way to reform the industy than telling people to stop eating shrimp or governmental intervention, according to the Atlantic — they need an almost identical, safer alternative.

Read more: Petri Dish-Grown Meat Brings Meat to Your Plate Without Harming Animals

Not only does the New Wave Foods product look, taste and feel the same, but it has similar nutritional content as regular shrimp, according to Tech Insider. "The lab-made shrimp had that springiness and mixture of crunch and chew that you'd expect from the real thing," Ariel Schwartz, a Tech Insider deputy editor, wrote about her taste-testing. "I could see myself replacing real shrimp with this in some situations."

"We're not reproducing shrimp cells," Barnes told the Atlantic. "We use a process that's similar to baking a loaf of bread." 

After perfecting the breaded shrimp, New Wave Foods will be working on releasing a plain shrimp, like in a shrimp cocktail, and soon, other types of seafood. 

But not everyone is down with grilling some algae-grown shrimp kabobs. "I can't imagine consumers would be very open and willing to try algae-based 'shrimp' in a grocer setting, or anywhere for that matter," Lizzy Freier, a Technomic analyst, told the Atlantic. "Though consumers are increasingly willing to try new foods ... there are some lines most consumers will not cross."

Still, New Wave Foods' timing at disrupting the market may be prime, since about 42% of Americans eat foods like veggie burgers and tofu, the Atlantic reportedGoogle has already ordered 200 pounds of the lab-grown shrimp to serve in its cafeterias, according to Tech Insider