Keep your eyes peeled, Green Monsters, a whole new type of seafood is hitting the sushi menu, and fish are not involved, at all. No, we’re not talking about cultured seafood being made in a lab, or a new vegan alternative made from binding vegetables and proteins together. This new seafood is derived from a beloved ingredient, one all of us have had in our kitchens at one point or another, and an Italian sauce favorite: Roma tomatoes! Fresh&Co, a small New York chain of fast-casual restaurants, is launching an umami-rich “tomato tuna sushi” this month after George Tenedios, the owner of Fresh&Co discovered the plant-based creation by James Corwell, a San Francisco-based chef.
We know what you’re thinking – tomatoes? seafood? But when you think about it – using tomatoes as a seafood alternative, especially in place of tuna, is kind of genius. To start, Roma tomatoes pretty much have an identical texture to bluefin tuna – firm but moist. Roma tomatoes also contain naturally high levels of glutamic acid, something Corwell says is a key ingredient in umami flavors. So, essentially what James Corwell was able to do was extract the “sweet tomato taste” from the fruity vegetable and then reapply the savory notes back in. After four years of perfecting the umami creation, Corwell and his company Ocean Hugger Foods, Inc are finally ready to roll out the product and Fresh&Co will be the set of the debut.
While the idea of taking a vegetable and getting it to taste like fish is undeniably remarkable, one can’t help but wonder what motive Corwell had for creating the mock tuna besides novelty. While the unconventionality probably played a motive, and will certainly draw many eyes to Fresh&Co, what really drove Corwell was the idea of “sustainable seafood” and creating a product that would “[protect] our oceans and biodiversity without sacrificing taste and culinary tradition.” After a trip to Tsukiji, the giant Tokyo fish market that provides seafood to the world, Corwell got a firsthand look at the threat our appetite for sushi poses to the world’s tuna populations and knew he needed to make a difference. As a report published last year by the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) revealed, the international demand for bluefin tuna, in addition to other species commonly used in sushi, is contributing to the degradation of Thailand’s marine ecosystems and has even been linked to human trafficking in this country. Thailand is also the third largest seafood exporter in the world and is also one of the planet’s most overfished regions. The loss of fish stocks in the Gulf of Thailand and Adaman Sea have sent Thai fisheries to Asia and Africa, where they utilize illegal vessels and trawl nets to continue to meet export quotas. Bluefin tuna has been so wildly overfished, that it is on the verge of extinction.
When Corwell’s creation was introduced to Fresh&Co’s executive chef Michael Roberts, the chef was quick to get on board. In an interview with Fast Company, Roberts explained, he heard about the idea from Tenedios, he thought it was great. “I always say, ‘Let’s try to save the world,’” Roberts said. So with that, he began to develop items for the fast-casual restaurant’s menu.
Fresh&Co will debut tomato-based tuna offerings at all 14 locations starting October 11. Among their offerings will be a collard green wrap, chef’s choice salad, grain bowl, and poke.
While Tenedios and Corwell both have clear motivation for providing healthier alternatives to seafood to the public through these offerings at Fresh&Co – especially considering nowadays we are discovering that much of the fish people are eating is mislabeled, contains plastic, and is hardly as regulated by the FDA as it should be – their sustainability mission takes up equal space on the forefront, if not more. And we can see why, this tomato tuna has the immense potential to help the dire state of our oceans and give bluefin tuna, as well as the marine animal victims of by-catch, a better chance of survival. While vegans and vegetarians will be happy to see another viable option on the sushi menu, what is most exciting is that people who would normally order a roll with tuna now have a plant-based option that may just be equally delicious. Good for our taste buds and the planet? Sounds like the future of food to us.
All image source: Fresh&Co