How Does Plant-Based Seafood Compare to Conventional Seafood?

The latest alternative protein to hit grocery stores and restaurant menus is plant-based seafood, and it’s making a big splash in the food industry.

While not as large as plant-based meat and dairy, seafood alternatives are one of the fastest-growing new plant-based categories. The plant-based seafood market is expected to reach $1.3 billion in 2031, growing at an annual rate of 42%.

Whole Foods predicts “fancy faux fish” will be one of the big food trends of 2024, including plant-based tinned fish, caviar, scallops, sushi rolls and poke bowls.

There’s even a new organization, called the Future Ocean Foods Association, that was created to support and accelerate the alternative seafood industry, which includes a membership of 36 companies in 14 countries around the globe.

Dietary guidelines recommend we eat omega-3-rich seafood at least twice a week to help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Are we missing out by choosing plant-based seafood?

What is Plant-Based Seafood?

Plant-based seafood or vegan seafood is a group of seafood alternatives made with only plants, including soy, wheat, pea protein, yeast and various vegetable oils and starches.

Companies use a variety of plant ingredients to match the taste and texture of fish and shellfish, along with cell cultivation (or growing cells in a lab) and fermentation. Some plant replacements include:

— Carrots in place of lox

— Eggplant for an eel alternative

— Trumpet mushrooms for scallops

— Whitefish made with smoked celery root

— Seaweed for vegan caviar

— Sushi-grade raw tuna made with tomatoes or konjac, an Asian root vegetable

“The rise of plant-based seafood is driven by a shift towards plant-based diet patterns as well as environmental concerns,” says registered dietitian Chris Vogliano, co-founder and director of global research for Food + Planet.

[See: Your Plant-Based Diet Needs These 10 Foods.]

Plant-Based Seafood vs. Conventional Seafood

Plant-based seafood is being championed as a more environmentally sustainable choice, addressing issues like overfishing and habitat destruction associated with certain traditional fishing techniques.

For some people, concerns about mercury contamination, microplastic pollution or allergies have sparked an interest in vegan seafood.

Taste and texture

The category of seafood alternatives is quickly evolving with a wide range of plant-based offerings, from fish sticks and fillets to crab cakes, shrimp and salmon burgers.

Want to make a tuna sandwich? You can now make it with plant-based canned tuna. Want to top your bagel with smoked salmon? Now you can buy plant-based smoked salmon. In fact, the plant-based smoked salmon from Konscious Foods won the best meat alternative prize at the Natural Products Expo West conference I recently attended. And I can attest, that the vegan smoked salmon was absolutely delicious.

Konscious Foods makes a wide range of innovative plant-based seafood products, including sushi rolls, onigiri and poke bowls featuring convincingly similar raw tuna and salmon made with konjac root.

Good Catch, another popular plant-based seafood brand, uses a blend of peas, chickpeas, lentils, soy, fava beans and navy beans in their plant-based fish sticks, fish fillets, fish burgers, crab cakes and tuna.


“While these plant-based alternatives replicate the taste and texture of traditional seafood, some may lack its nutritional richness,” Vogliano says.

The lack of omega-3 is one of the downfalls of certain plant-based seafood. These fatty acids are valuable for brain and eye health and offer protection against heart disease. While some brands are fortifying with algal oil, that doesn’t yet appear to be a common practice.

Additionally, researchers found that the protein content is typically lower and sodium levels higher in plant-based compared to conventional seafood. A study in the journal European Food Research and Technology evaluated 83 seafood alternatives that were launched globally from 2002 to 2021. The researchers recommend fortification of seafood alternatives with omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins (A, B, and D), to ensure a nutritional equivalence with conventional products.

Similarly, a 2024 analysis in Trends in Food Science and Technology concluded that seafood alternatives often lack essential nutrients and the researchers recommend more widespread fortification with omega-3 fatty acids, iron, vitamin B-12 and dietary fiber.

As with any plant-based alternative, it’s important to look at the nutrition facts label, ingredient list and level of processing, says Vogliano.

“Many plant-based seafood products are great for mimicking the taste and texture of fish and seafood, but you have to be alert to what they deliver nutritionally,” says registered dietitian Elana Natker, a consultant to the Global Organization for EPA and DHA Omega-3s (GOED). “Many are not fortified with EPA and DHA omega-3s and, if they are, it’s often something that doesn’t match what you’d get from the actual fish.”

Some seafood alternatives are fortified with algal oil from marine algae and list 420 milligrams of omega-3 per package. Good Catch plant-based tuna and Gardein plant-based fish fillets and crab cakes are fortified with algal oil. They’re among the few brands with added algal oil and highlight omega-3 on the label.

If you’re not sure about a product’s omega-3 content, Natker recommends looking at the ingredient list for algal oil, the only vegan source of EPA and DHA omega-3s.

Some plant-based seafood products are made with seaweed, yet “contrary to popular belief, you cannot find adequate amounts of omega-3s in seaweed.” she says.

[SEE: Nutrition Recommendations You’re Probably Falling Short On. Here’s How to Fix Them]

Plant-Based Seafood Products

Shopping for Vegan Seafood

Most of the plant-based seafood products can be found in the freezer aisle. There are also a growing number of plant-based tinned fish available.

Some products are ready-to-eat from the refrigerator, although many of these are currently only available in food service. For instance, Current Foods makes plant-based slices of smoked salmon and plant-based tuna cubes and fillets for restaurants.

Many plant-based seafood companies use breading and seasoning to replicate familiar formats of seafood, such as crispy fish sticks and crab cakes.

It’s rarer to find plain fish fillets without breading or mixed with other ingredients, such as sushi rolls. So if you like to bake fresh salmon in the oven or sauté a white fish fillet in a pan, that’s going to be tougher to replicate with plant-based seafood unless you’re a chef. Many of the unbreaded, whole cuts or sushi-grade alt-seafood are currently only available for restaurants, including Boldly Foods which offers an impressive array of plant-based salmon, tuna, calamari steaks and rings, whitefish and jumbo prawns. The Australian company shares enticing recipes on its website like tuna tartare, calamari salad, crab rolls and lemon baked whitefish using their plant-based seafood.

Frozen plant-based seafood sold in supermarkets is easily prepared by baking, air-frying or sautéing in a pan. Other alternatives like canned tuna and sushi-grade salmon do not require cooking. Nearly all the companies offer vegan recipes for their products like fish tacos, burritos, grain bowls and pasta dishes. These products are 100% vegan from plant sources. However, that might not be the case with the next generation of alternative seafood that uses cellular aquaculture. Food-tech start-ups like Wildtype, Atlantic Fish Co. and BLUU Seafood are creating cultivated seafood from fish cells. While still emerging in the U.S. market, these products are not technically vegan.

Other start-ups like Chicago-based AQUA Cultured Foods are using fermentation to make 100% fish-free seafood. These vegan products made of microbes and fibers, which will first be introduced in restaurants, include calamari, shrimp, scallops and fillets of tuna and whitefish.

Choosing Plant-Based or Conventional Seafood

More people are cooking seafood at home and the health benefits are a primary motivator, according to the Power of Seafood 2024 report from the Food Industry Association.

Plant-based seafood may try to match the taste and texture of conventional seafood, but it’s not nutritionally equivalent, says Linda Cornish, founder and president of Seafood Nutrition Partnership, a nonprofit organization raising awareness of the health benefits of seafood.

Seafood is a nutrient-packed food beyond the omega-3 it provides, offering selenium, zinc, vitamin D, B vitamins and high-quality protein. It’s also low in saturated fat, which is why many health-conscious people are eating more seafood in place of red meat.

Decades of research have shown that eating seafood improves brain, eye and heart health, says Cornish. That’s why the American Heart Association, Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and the World Health Organization recommend eating seafood twice weekly.

For all of these reasons, demand for seafood (dubbed “blue foods” by researchers) is increasing, and experts do not think the world’s oceans can keep up with this demand. Plant-based seafood is being proposed as one potential solution for our quickly depleting oceans, yet so is farmed-raised seafood.

“Farm-raised seafood provides a more consistent and controllable supply of food, but depending on production practices, may involve antibiotic use and contribute to ecological pollution,” says Vogliano. “Ultimately, plant-based and traditional seafood, including both farmed and wild-caught, can fit into a healthy diet that also promotes environmental sustainability,” he adds. Vogliano says the choice between these options depends on personal preferences and environmental considerations. He suggests consulting the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Recommendations to find seafood that is fished or farmed in environmentally sustainable ways.

If you are opting for plant-based seafood, recognize the likely lack of omega-3s and the higher sodium levels compared to traditional seafood. If you are not buying a seafood alternative that is fortified with algal oil, Natker recommends an algal oil-based supplement, aiming for 500 milligrams EPA + DHA omega-3s per day.

More from U.S. News

11 Best Foods High in Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Top Plant-Based Proteins

12 Health Benefits of a Plant-Based Diet

How Does Plant-Based Seafood Compare to Conventional Seafood? originally appeared on

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