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Sushi of the future: The first ever lab-grown eel is a success

In a groundbreaking move, Forsea Foods, an Israeli startup, is set to revolutionize the sushi world by offering lab-grown Japanese eel (unagi) as early as 2024. This innovative approach aims to alleviate the pressure on dwindling wild eel populations, a result of high global demand for this sushi delicacy. 

Roee Nir, CEO and co-founder of Forsea, highlights the significance of this venture: “Forsea is pioneering the fusion of traditional, high-quality Asian cuisine with groundbreaking technology to create the world’s first cultured unagi.”

Traditional Japanese dishes 

Partnering with executive chef Katsumi Kusomoto, Forsea Foods has successfully crafted traditional Japanese dishes such as unagi kabayaki and unagi nigiri using their lab-grown eel. 

Kusomoto, recognizing the enduring popularity of unagi in Japan, notes the increasing need for sustainable culinary practices. “Unagi is an enduring favorite in Japan, its timeless appeal, however, is impacted by a growing awareness among the Japanese population of the need to take a more sustainable approach,” he explained.

Endangered eel populations 

Japan’s consumption of eel has seen a dramatic decrease from 160,000 tonnes in 2000 to an 80% reduction, due in part to environmental awareness. 

The perilous state of wild eel populations, exacerbated by overfishing and habitat destruction, led to their listing as endangered by the IUCN Red List in 2018. Moreover, the complexity of breeding eels in captivity has led to a supply shortage and soaring market prices.

Innovative technique 

Forsea Foods’ lab-grown eel process is distinct from traditional lab-grown meat methods, which often rely on separate production of protein and fat cells assembled on a scaffold. 

Instead, Forsea utilizes pluripotent stem cells to create “organoids,” small 3D tissue structures that self-organize into tissues containing both fat and protein. This innovative technique, which bypasses the need for a scaffold, is now poised for commercial scaling with a potential launch by 2025.

Lab-grown protein sources 

Forsea Foods is not alone in this field. In 2021, Steakholder Foods, an Israel-based company, revealed the first 3D-printed fish fillet made from lab-grown cells. And in a similar vein, Aleph Farms from Israel became the first to seek regulatory approval for lab-grown beef, although a response may take two years. 

As the UK government considers fast-tracking novel food approvals, the future of lab-grown seafood and meat appears promising, offering a sustainable alternative to traditional animal protein sources.

More about unagi

Unagi is a term from Japanese cuisine that refers to freshwater eel, specifically the Anguilla japonica species. It’s highly prized for its rich, savory flavor and smooth, fatty texture, making it a popular ingredient in various dishes. 


Unagi is often grilled over charcoal or gas, then glazed with a sweet and savory sauce made from soy sauce, sugar, and mirin, a process that enhances its natural flavors and gives it a glossy appearance. This preparation method is known as “kabayaki.”


Unagi is commonly served on a bed of rice in a dish called unadon (short for unagi donburi), where the warm rice complements the eel’s succulence. It’s also a key ingredient in sushi and can be found in rolls or as nigiri, where slices of the eel are laid over vinegared rice and sometimes wrapped with a thin strip of seaweed.

Cultural significance 

In Japanese culture, unagi is not just appreciated for its taste but also for its supposed stamina-boosting properties. It’s traditionally eaten during the hottest part of the summer, on a day known as Doyo no Ushi no Hi, under the belief that it provides strength and vitality to withstand the summer heat.

Sustainability concerns 

Aside from its cultural significance and culinary uses, unagi is also subject to sustainability concerns due to overfishing and habitat loss, leading to efforts in some areas to farm eel in a more environmentally friendly manner.

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