Sushi-loving vegans and raw-fish haters, rejoice! Plant-based sushi is finally here. Officially labeled "Ahimi," it's a gleaming red tomato-based invention meant to mimic the texture and flavor of ahi tuna.
Whole Foods Market will start carrying the vegan tuna look-alike in its sushi bars in New York and Los Angeles in November. And its creators hope they've found a breakthrough ingredient for environmentalists, vegetarians and other audiences (hello, pregnant women) who avoid at least some types of fish.
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The idea came about years ago when chef James Corwell visited the iconic daily tuna auction at Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market. Worried about global overfishing and endangered species, he created a Kickstarter for a tuna replacement.
"He wanted to maintain those beautiful flavors, and that tradition" of sushi, while being conscious that "our oceans are in peril," says David Benzaquen, chief executive officer of Ocean Hugger Foods, Inc., which now manufactures Ahimi.
The ingredients? Tomatoes, soy sauce, water, sesame oil and sugar.
"The secret is really in the mechanical process we've developed to create that fatty texture while eliminating the … acidity and brightness of tomatoes," Benzaquen says. It's also being served in corporate cafeterias for technology companies and through food-service businesses like the environmentally conscious Bon Appetit Management Company. "Some of these places … will go through 10,000 sushi rolls a day," he says.
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Vegetarian sushi options are understandably limited in restaurants—"your options are avocado and cucumber, it's not that exciting," Benzaquen says—and prices for fish can be higher and more volatile than for veggies. Beyond vegetarians and environmentalists, he says the creators have found an audience in people with seafood allergies and groups like immunosuppressed people or young children who are advised not to eat raw fish.
Ahimi started out with sushi-based flavors, but Benzaquen says it could be formulated for dishes like ceviche in the future. And if you don't like the idea of tuna—or tomatoes—the next products planned for their line include a salmon made from carrots—both a raw version and a smoked one—and eggplant eel.