James Corwell had an epiphany four years ago. While working in Japan, the award-winning, sustainability-minded chef took a trip to a Tokyo fish market with thousands of blue fin tuna (which are an endangered species). Shocked, he made it his mission to create a plant-based food that could be eaten in place of tuna. And now, he’s finally done it with his latest venture, Tomato Sushi.
Tomato Sushi is designed to have the taste and texture of tuna, but it is made entirely of tomato. While Corwell is keeping his secret formula on lock, David Benzaquen, the CEO of Ocean Hugger Foods (Tomato Sushi’s parent company) says everything is clean and unprocessed—it’s essentially made with water, tomatoes, soy sauce, and vinegar.
For vegans, it may be the best news since David Chang unveiled the plant-based “bleeding” burger earlier this year.
“James is a perfectionist. He’s a certified [American Culinary Federation] master chef,” Benzaquen says, explaining why it took four years to get the formula exactly right. Tomato Sushi tested the product in San Francisco and Napa Valley (let’s face it, West Coasters are sushi connoisseurs) and after a rave reaction, they’re ready to go bigger.
“[Our] mission is to support sustainability of the oceans, protect wildlife, and create a world where people can experience the delicious culinary tradition of sushi without harming the oceans.”
Starting October 11, Tomato Sushi will be available exclusively at grab-and-go eatery Fresh & Co., served up in four different dishes: a poke side salad with quinoa, avocado and cucumber; a larger salad with charred pineapple, seaweed and quinoa; a grain bowl with quinoa; and a collard greens wrap.
Since, let’s be honest, tomatoes don’t exactly pack the protein and omega-3s that real tuna does, Fresh & Co. chef Mike Roberts specifically combined it with other ingredients that do (like grains and avocados) to round out the nutritional profile.
Benzaquen, who hasn’t had fish in years, says he’s excited to finally be able to offer vegans a sushi option that isn’t the California roll. But he stresses that for the company, sustainability is the driving factor. “[Our] mission is to support sustainability of the oceans, protect wildlife, and create a world where people can experience the delicious culinary tradition of sushi without harming the oceans,” he says.
So now the big question: How does it taste?
I headed to Fresh & Co. to share a meal with Benzaquen, trying each of the three dishes that will be offered. First thought: It definitely looks like tuna. Taste-wise, the flavor is spot-on (and the soy sauce definitely comes through). The texture isn’t unpleasant, but it’s not going to fool any sushi lovers anytime soon—after all, it’s still a tomato.
Even though it doesn’t exactly feel like fish, right now it’s the closest there is to a plant-based substitute. And if you’re vegan, freaked out by fish fraud, or trying to live as sustainably as you can, it’s still definitely a win.
Another reason to try vegan sushi: You might be getting a side of plastic with your fish. Concerned about GMOs? Here’s what you need to know about the bill President Obama recently signed.