A “plant-based” tuna sushi roll? Sounds a bit fishy.
But Whole Foods Market is about to try an experiment to see if sushi lovers can warm to roll based on what grows out of the ground and not what is hooked out of the sea.
The supermarket chain that recently became part of Amazon is teaming with a startup to bring a faux-tuna product called Ahimi, made from tomatoes and other ingredients, to sushi rolls in New York and Los Angeles.
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The tuna-free rolls could not only lure vegans and eco-minded consumers concerned about overfishing, but sushi fans who worry about ingesting too much mercury.
Starting Nov. 1, the new roll will come both as Ahimi Nigiri and Roll combo and the Ahimi California Roll.
Ocean Hugger Foods, the company based in New York City that created Ahimi, promises the same firmness and fattiness of raw fish. Besides tomatoes, Ahimi is made from preservative-free soy sauce, filtered water, sesame oil and sugar.
“We developed Ahimi over many years using a non-chemical process and natural ingredients,” said David Benzaquen, CEO of Ocean Hugger Foods.
While the specifics are a trade secret, he said the process of making Ahimi “allows us to completely eliminate the taste of the tomatoes” so consumers can experience a product that is “extraordinarily similar” to the real deal.
The bright red color, much like raw ahi, is what caught the attention of Whole Foods’ buyers.
“It’s delicious,” said Andy Sasse, a senior category leader for Whole Foods who discovered Ahimi at a trade show. “It’s a simple, mild flavor. Sushi is made of pure ingredients and this is made of tomatoes, which are real.”
While Sasse said die-hard sushi fans will be able to tell the difference, Ahimi is still a good option for if you want to go meatless.
“It’s close enough,” he said.
Sasse said Whole Foods is open to bringing the food to other cities if it sells well in the two test markets. And faux-tuna is yet to be discovered by sushi chefs in restaurants around the country.
Ji Hun Hong, a sushi chef and owner of Dragonfly Wine & Sushi Bistro in El Paso, Texas, said his customers are always asking for vegan and vegetarian sushi options with more flavor.
“I’ve never heard of vegan fish, but it sounds cool,” he said. “If I had it, I would try it. It’s good to try something different.”