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Israeli food tech Forsea debuts cell-cultivated eel unagi with premier tasting event

June 7, 2024

Cultivated seafood startup, Forsea Foods, hosted the first official tasting of its cultured freshwater eel at the chic Tel-Aviv restaurant 'a' and welcomed an intimate gathering of 40 guests. The exclusive group included investors, journalists, and key opinion leaders in the food industry, as well as representatives from the Japanese embassy and various Japanese food  companies based in Israel.

On the menu were three culinary fish creations which included Forsea's cell-cultivated iteration of unagi kabayaki – grilled fresh eel on a bed of aromatic rice. This traditional Japanese dish was featured as the centerpiece of the menu.

On a mission to save wild eel populations, and other species at risk, the company pioneered a new approach to cell cultivating fish tissues outside their native water habitats by applying organoid technology. Forsea's patent-protected method involves creating the ideal environment for fish cells to spontaneously assemble themselves into three-dimensional tissue structures with their natural composition of fat, muscle and connective tissue. This method is designed to echo the natural growth process of these tissues in a living fish, aligning cell-based technology more closely with nature.

The added benefits to this method of cell-cultivation is that it bypasses the scaffolding stage and dramatically reduces the dependence on costly growth factors. This makes the process highly scalable, raising its commercial viability as well price parity with traditionally aquafarmed eel meat. Wild eel has been experiencing severe supply shortages due to overfishing, while aquafarming of eel remains difficult, and breeding eel in captivity remains elusive.

This shortfall occurs amidst a surge in demand for the Japanese delicacy, not only among the Japanese population but also across Asia, the USA and Europe. This has resulted in a jump in the wholesale price of freshwater eels to as high as US$60/kg.

Photo courtesy of Liran Maimon

"Forsea's unique organoid technology has the potential to overcome many of the industry bottlenecks in bringing cultivated meat to the consumer plate," asserted Roee Nir, CEO & Co-founder of Forsea. "Since the start of the year, we made significant advancements in improving our cell lines. We also have been working diligently to enhance our recipes. This event was a great opportunity for us to present our unprecedented achievements to partners and industry stakeholders."

At the closed dining event, guests enjoyed the first tastings of Forsea's cultured eel unagi filets. Forsea's creation embodies the flavor and smooth, tender texture of traditional eel unagi. It is free of pollutants (such as mercury), industrial chemicals, and microplastics. It also is highly sustainable and helps protect the aquatic environment and its inhabitants.

Celebrated Israeli gourmet chef Yuval Ben Neriah, specialist in Asian cuisine and owner of the five elements-inspired restaurant Taizo located in Tel Aviv, played a pivotal role in fine tuning the finished product to capture the authentic flavor and sensory attributes of the Japanese specialty.

"As a chef who spent many years tantalizing diners with fine Asian cuisine, this project with Forsea has been particularly exciting as it marks my first venture into future food and the world of cell-cultured seafood and its resonating sustainability message," added Ben Neriah, chef of restaurant a. "The feedback from the diners was indeed uplifting. Several remarked that they wouldn't have guessed that the unagi was cell-cultivated had they not been informed."

Executive chef Katsumi Kusumoto, who started the vegan restaurant SAIDO in Tokyo, also contributed to bringing Forsea's inaugural unagi product to culinary perfection. Unagi has been a famous specialty of Chef Kusumoto for many years. Forsea projects that its debut product will be primed for commercial roll-out by 2026 and is currently forging connections with strategic partners in Japan.

Takahashi Seiichiro Japan's Deputy Chief of Mission to Israel congratulated Forsea's achievements. "I would like to thank Forsea for choosing eel, an endangered species but indispensable for the Japanese and Asian diet. While we Japanese have been eating eel for more than 5,000 years, we understand that cultivating eel is no simple task. Therefore, I believe that introducing the first cell-cultured eel is the accomplished result of great comprehensive corporate efforts."

(Main photo courtesy of Liran Maimon)

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