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Starting next year, Google's shrimp dishes won't be made with actual shrimp. After tasting New Wave Foods's realistic faux shrimp, the tech giant's chef pledged to switch to the company's plant- and-algae-based product for the first few months of 2017, Wired reported.
EcoWatch featured the San Francisco sustainable seafood startup in December. The New Wave team consists of three women with a combined professional background in environmentalism to take on this ambitious task: Dominique Barnes is an oceanography graduate and former shark caretaker at Las Vegas's Golden Nugget Hotel, Michelle Wolf is a materials scientist and engineer, and Jennifer Kaehms has a bioengineering degree from the University of California San Diego.
We mentioned then how the company's lab-grown "shrimp" is as tasty and nutritious as the real deal. The shrimp even transitions from grey to pink during cooking.
Barnes told Munchies, "Right now, when we do demos, most people are really surprised that it's not real shrimp." She explained that the company has mostly replicated a real shrimp's exact texture and taste using red algae:
"We looked at the building blocks of real shrimp, what they consumed. They eat many things, but one of the things they eat regularly are micro algae, and a part of that is red algae. Certain compounds from red algae actually impart shrimp's color and flavor. So we looked at that and found it can actually be cultivated and used in a similar way in our shrimp. It's also a powerful anti-oxidant."
Shrimp is America's most popular seafood. The average American peels through roughly 4 pounds of shrimp a year, according to the National Marine Fisheries Service. About 6 million tons of shrimp are consumed worldwide per year.
However, the world's fondness for this crustacean has sent global populations plummeting from overfishing. For instance, Maine's Northern shrimp haul dropped from 12 million pounds in 2010 to just 563,313 pounds in 2013.
World Wildlife Fund points out that production has also been known to rip out ecologically sensitive habitats such as mangroves. Shrimp farming also creates a steady stream of organic waste, chemicals and antibiotics that can pollute groundwater and coastal estuaries.
"Looking at land use, water use, transportation of the product—[our shrimp] is much less intensive" compared with shrimp farming, Barnes explained to Wired.
You might also want to avoid certain types of shrimp for
health reasons. A startling Consumer Reports study tested 342 packages of frozen shrimp—284 raw and 58 cooked samples—purchased at Albertsons, Costco, Fry's Marketplace, Hy-Vee, Kroger, Sprouts Farmers Market and Walmart in 27 cities across the U.S. The results showed that 60 percent of raw shrimp tested positive for bacteria, including salmonella, E. coli and listeria. In seven raw shrimp samples, scientists detected the antibiotic-resistant superbug MRSA, or Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus, that could potentially lead to a dangerous infection.
If that doesn't ruin your taste for shrimp, most varieties you'll find in supermarkets or served in restaurants comes from small shrimp farms in Southeast Asia. Last December, a stunning investigation from the Associated Press revealed that the industry was rife with human trafficking and the shrimp you might be eating was peeled by slave labor.
New Waves's fake shrimp can thus be consumed without any guilt. Barnes, however, admitted to Wired that it will be an uphill climb to switch American taste buds off their favorite seafood for what amounts to "pond scum."
"One hurdle that I do see," Barnes said, "is in our perception of algae. When I talk to people, usually they're like, 'What are you talking about? This is pond scum.'" She also pointed out that you've likely eaten algae without even knowing it. "You probably already consumed something this week that has an algae ingredient," she said.
Besides Google, the fake shrimp has been served at pop-up events in San Francisco and the company is working for a mass-market release.
"We've been able to visit Google twice so far and [had our food] served in their cafeteria," Barnes told Digital Trends. "At the moment we're making everything in small batches because we're kind of an artisanal company. But to meet the kind of quantity they would like to order we need to focus on scaling our production. Right now that's our main focus."