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“Eight 3D printed vegan Nigiri Salmon Rolls, Please” How 3D print enables tasty plant-based seafood

“Eight 3D printed vegan Nigiri Salmon Rolls, Please” How 3D print enables tasty plant-based seafood

3D-printed vegan salmon from LegendaryVish
3D-printed vegan salmon from LegendaryVish
Cutting board with salmon spread, raw salmon, and bread
Sushi with 3D-printed vegan salmon and sushi sticks
Sushi with 3D-printed vegan salmon +1
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3D-printed vegan salmon from LegendaryVish

Imagine walking into your favourite sushi restaurant. You are on a date with your dream girl. The waiter brings you the menu card, and you learn that the dream girl is vegan, so you turn to the page with vegan options. For a moment, you are confused and think you are on the wrong page! The featured pictures show vegan nigiri rolls, but they look exactly like regular nigiri rolls. From a note at the top of the page, you learn that the restaurant uses 3D printed vegan fish and that the technology enables a vegan option that has the same texture as regular fish. Both you and the dream girl are super excited and only order vegan sushi, which to your pleasant surprise also tastes like fish.

Turning this scenario into reality is precisely what the startup LegendaryVish hopes to achieve with their 3D printed and plant-based salmon fillets. We interviewed Robin Simsa, CEO and Co-Founder, to get some insights into how a team of students came up with the idea and how their business is going. 

OPEN INTERNSHIP: If you, like us, think LegendaryVish and their vision is super cool, you have the opportunity to join the team by applying for one of their open internships here!

How did you get the idea to 3D print vegan fish?

We got the idea when we met during a program called training4CRM, which is an interdisciplinary program for PhD students funded by the European Union. Training4CRM was a precious experience for us in two ways. First, it brought us together. My co-founders and I come from very different academic backgrounds, and I am not sure we would have found each other if we hadn’t been a part of the program. Second, the program allowed us to get more experienced in our areas of interest. Personally, I was working with cell-cultured meat, which means growing meat from stem cells. I got some insights into how you design a product so that it has the same sensations as real meat from a taste/flavour perspective. Another colleague was working a lot with 3D printing and developed his own 3D bio-printer. We got to talk and realized that we could use this newly acquired knowledge, combine it, and apply it in the production of 3D printed vegan fish. 

Why is this an important project for you?

We don’t just sell a product. We sell a vision of how the world could look like with a more sustainable food system. Currently, we see very unsustainable practices in animal agriculture, fishery, and aquaculture. ‘Clean’ food is an essential element in the transition to a more sustainable world, and we believe that plant-based technology will be one of the key drivers in achieving this. That is why LegendaryVish is important. We can produce the products people love more sustainably, without the need to raise and kill fish.

The traditional fishing industry is genuinely wasteful, but by shifting the production methods to, e.g. use 3D printers, it is possible to eliminate some of the waste.”

How do you know that 3D printing is a more sustainable production method than traditional production? Do you have any data to support this claim?

It is hard for us to get the exact numbers, as we have not defined our production process and ingredients entirely yet. However, a lot of research has been conducted on similar plant-based food products such as the “Beyond Burger”. A study called “Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger Life Cycle Assessment” shows that the production uses up to 90% less land use. We don’t see why our production process should be significantly different from this, so we believe our sustainability rates would be approximately the same. 3D printing also reduces waste. A recent study from NORCE shows that up to 50% of the salmon die because of diseases before they mature. Furthermore, it shows that on the salmon that survives, around 40% of the salmon is uneatable and therefore cutaway (bones, organs, etc.). The traditional fishing industry is genuinely wasteful, but by shifting the production methods to, e.g. use 3D printers, it is possible to eliminate some of the waste. 

What ingredients are used in vegan fish?

The ingredients are similar to those is in the veggie burgers, you can buy in the supermarket. However, we use different flavours and different production methods. We use plant proteins such as pea protein and mushroom protein, which we try to source locally. Right now, we are experimenting with the ingredients. For example, we use different extracts from algae to add sea flavour. To get the right taste, we work together with flavour developers, and we just received a sample of salmon spread last week, and it tastes fantastic – just like real salmon!

Can you explain to us, how do you use the technology to get the structure right?

In a simplified way, what happens is that you apply a process called extrusion. It means that you heat a protein mix to a high temperature, so the proteins lose their primary form, they are so to say free-floating now. Then you apply a lot of pressure and press them out through the opening of the printer. By applying pressure, the proteins align with each other and bind together. This is what creates the fibres and structures. The real innovation is that we can fully control the structure and texture of the final product. Right now, you only have something like a hamburger, which is basically an unstructured mass and very simple to produce. With this new technology, we can produce something like salmon fillet, which has a very heterogeneous structure with the white stripes and orange meat in between.

Which markets will be your main markets? And how are your scale opportunities?

Right now we are located in Vienna, so definitely the German-speaking market is interesting. Scandinavia will for sure be an option as well for either the first or second market entry because people like fish and are generally super open to new food innovations. In regards to our scale opportunities, one of our partners, FELIXprinters, has already developed up-scaling solutions for food printing. They already upscaled the production for chocolate printing, which is a little bit different from meat printing, but generally, the systems are similar. So a way to imagine how large scale production works with 3D printers is to think about the conveyor belts, you know from car manufacturers. Here, a line of many printers will print different layers of the final product, or you can have many individual printers that produce one final product at a time. For us, we have not reached the stage where we are ready to upscale, right now we are working on the basic technology.

“Each guest can then choose what meal they want, and the orders are sent directly to the 4D printers in the kitchen.”

What do you think will happen with 3D printing in the food industry in the future?

Recently, I talked to a company in Barcelona, Natural Machines, which produces food printers for restaurants and other partners. Their vision is to build a 4D food printer. The 4D element means that the printer will print food and it heat/cook it – while it prints! So you have a ready to eat meal. In their dream scenario, you can enter a restaurant and be presented with a menu card on an iPad. Each guest can then choose what meal they want, and the orders are sent directly to the 4D printers in the kitchen. I think that it certainly is an exciting idea, but maybe a bit futuristic – we might see it as a reality in ten years or something like this.

What does the future hold for LegendaryVish?

Hopefully, we will supply all of Europe first and then the rest of the world with delicious plant-based fish, firstly salmon and later tuna. My dream is to create the full experience, so a complete fish with skin and everything, so you can put it on a grill. However, this will take a couple of years to develop, so we will start by delivering some delicious sushi. 

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