Wednesday, March 28, 2018

SENA18: The Seafood Expo (Part 2)

What were some of the most interesting seafood products that I found at the 2018 Seafood Expo North America (SENA)?

Each year, the seafood industry presents a myriad of new products at SENA, some which end up in the New Product Showcase, hoping to win a Seafood Excellence Award. Only two such Awards are selected, the Best New Retail Product and Best New Foodservice Product. Other exhibitors simply present their new products at their booth, often providing samples intended to entice people to purchase their new item. Each year, as I wander up and down the aisles of the Expo, I seek out intriguing new products, hoping to find something fascinating and delicious. This year, I found several items which stirred my interest.

The first item was the winner of the 2018 Seafood Excellence Award for "Best New Foodservices Product." Thai Union, through its Chicken of the Sea brand, has created Yellowfin Tuna Slices, essentially deli slices of tuna. What a cool idea! It is now even easier to make a tuna sandwich, simply piling on slices on your bread rather than the broken pieces you remove from a can and need mayo to keep together. Sliced tuna is also very versatile and you can check out numerous recipes here. I was curious though as to how these tuna slices were produced, and whether they contained any fillers or additives.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that these slices are essentially tuna and seasonings. They begin the process with a whole loin of yellowfin tuna, sustainable, and mostly sourced from the western Pacific Ocean. Currently, they are seeking certification through Marine Stewardship Council. The loin is placed into a plastic bag with seasonings and then undergoes a high pressurization process which will form the loin into the requisite form and texture. This process also heats and cooks the tuna, as well as forcing the seasonings to flavor the entire loin.

Once completed, the tuna is then sliced into approximately one ounce pieces, currently sold in two pound, vacuum sealed packages (about $16) to commercial businesses like restaurants. The tuna slices are available in two flavors, Black Pepper and Cajun, though they have the capability to produce almost any flavor. I had the opportunity to taste both flavors and I was impressed with the tuna's texture and flavor, especially enjoying the spicy heat from the Cajun style. It tasted like tuna and I love the ease of use, how it can so simply used on a sandwich, in a wrap, atop a salad, etc.

I believe these tuna slices could get more people to eat seafood, as it avoids one of the main complaints about seafood, that it is too difficult to cook. With these slices, it is as easy to use as sliced roast beef, turkey or bologna. And the fact that it is basically tuna and seasonings should appeal to people seeking healthier alternatives. Plus, it provides the benefits of Omega-3s, which can significantly reduce the chance of heart diseases. Maybe we can look forward to other sliced fish in the future. The deli counter has taken a step toward the future.

The next item is related to tuna, though it actually doesn't contain any tuna at all. Ocean Hugger Foods, Inc. was founded by Master Chef James Corwell, a native of Atlanta. Chef Corwell was concerned about the state of bluefin tuna, understanding the precarious status of the species. He decided to create an alternative to tuna, something which would help protect and conserve the oceans.     His first creation is Ahimi, a plant-based alternative to raw tuna, which can be used in sushi, ceviche, tartare and more.

Ahimi is made from five ingredients, including fresh tomatoes, soy sauce, filtered water, sugar, and sesame oil. For those with allergies, please note that Ahimi contains soy, wheat, gluten, and sesame. You should use Ahimi whenever you might use raw fish, and they highly recommend that you do not cook the Ahimi. It last be stored frozen for up to two years, and will last, once opened, for about four weeks in the refrigerator. At the Expo, they were preparing Ahimi Nigiri, which involves slicing strips from a large piece of the Ahimi, placing the strip atop a piece of rice, and then wrapping nori around both.

At a quick look, they resemble tuna nigiri but if you look closer, the color won't seem to be the same. When I bit into a piece of the Ahimi, it had a tougher texture than tuna, not the silky fish you might be used to. Eating a piece of the Ahimi and rice, you likely won't believe it is tuna either. However, it still possesses a pleasant taste and would please someone seeking a vegetarian alternative to tuna. If you love tuna, the Ahimi isn't going to replace that taste, but it is definitely a way to help preserve the endangered bluefin. I might like the Ahimi even more if it were in a ceviche or poke.

Ocean Hugger Foods is working on additional products, including Sakimi, a carrot-based salmon alternative, and Unami, an eggplant-based eel alternative.

More vegetarian options were offered by Barnacle Coast to Kitchen, an Alaskan company that uses seaweed to create a variety of products. The founders, Matt Kern and Lia Heifetz, are natives of Southeast Alaska and would fish and forage bull kelp, preserving the seaweed by pickling it and making salsa. Eventually, they decided to make a business out of their activities, remaining in their local community and using the sustainable kelp, which they harvest from the Alaskan wasters.

Their website describes the kelp, stating: "It’s snappy, salty and savory, with a crisp bite. Bull kelp grows annually, from spore to mature plant in a single year. As it grows, it attaches to the ocean floor via a “holdfast”—a root-like growth that clings to rocks or other anchorages. From there, the stalk can grow up to 80 feet, with a floating bulb at the surface. Bull kelp forests create vital habitat for fish, sea urchins and starfish. Sea otters often wrap kelp strands around their bodies to secure them during rough weather."

Check out the Seafood Source for a recent article on the rise in popularity of seaweed. At prior Seafood Expos, I've tasted a few different products made from seaweed and have enjoyed them, so I was intrigued to check out Barnacle's products. Unfortunately, only the Campfire Kelp Salsa seemed to be available to taste.

There are three varieties of their Kelp Salsa, the Original, Campfire, and Sea Verde. The addition of the Kelp is supposed to boost the flavor and richness of the salsa, as well as add a nutritious and sustainable ingredient. A 10 ounce jar costs approximately $7.95 and each salsa contains about 50% Kelp. Their Campfire Kelp Salsa won the Juneau People's Choice award of the Alaska Symphony of Seafood. Its ingredients include Alaskan Kelp, tomatoes, onion, lemon juice, vinegar, garlic, beets, tomato paste, cilantro, honey, and spices.

I was impressed with the Campfire, finding it to be delicious, spicy and smoky, with rich tomato and prominent garlic flavors. It was savory, with an intriguing umami element, and you wouldn't have known it contained kelp unless someone told you. It was excellent atop a tortilla chip and I could easily see it used in anyway you might use a regular salsa. And it is more nutritious than many other jarred salsas. This earns my hearty recommendation.

Barnacle's other products include Kelp Pickles and Kelp Blends. The Kelp Pickles, available in Dill and Curry, are thinly sliced, seasoned bull kelp rings, which can be used on sandwiches, as a cocktail garnish, or simply on their own. The Kelp Blends, available in Galley Mix and Ocean Gold, consist of dried kelp that is blended with ingredients such as toasted sesame seeds, bonito flakes and nutritional yeast. They can be used to flavor almost any type of dish.

To Be Continued...

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