Is Tomato the New Tuna? Vegan Sushi Is on the Rise


Something's fishy about James Corwell's sushi. Actually, it's not fishy at all. It's tomato sushi.

Chef Corwell has developed a totally tuna-free, tasty sushi option that's plant-based rather than made with fish. And we're not talking avocado cucumber rolls: Tomato sushi tastes like the real thing.

"Tomato sushi really was a gift," Corwell says. "As a chef it was the craziest thing that I would make." As a tuna fan, Corwell appreciates the color and clean taste of the fish, calling it "gateway sushi." It's easy for Westerners to enjoy and simple for chefs to use. A default for many a sushi chef in America, tuna is consumed at such a rapid rate it could eventually lead to the extinction of tuna in our lifetimes. 

After watching tuna auctions at Japan's Tsjuki fish market, Corwell was inspired to create his tomato sushi. "The sheer volume of blue and yellow fin tuna going through there everyday, every week, every month is staggering," he said. "To believe that the oceans could keep up with this kind of harvest was unfathomable. Not to mention that this was just Japan and did not include the rest of the world."

passion for eco-friendly sushi led Corwell to find an alternative to the over-fished tuna. At first, Corwell thought tofu would be the only alternative, but using techonology and gourmet chef techniques, he began to realize that tomatoes, thanks to their color and savory flavor, could be a good substitute.

Tomato sushi is made using a sous vide process, in which the tomato is vacuum-wrapped in plastic and boiled. The sushi adopts a flesh-like texture similar to ahi tuna and the tomato's high levels of naturally occurring glutamic acids break down to create a food that tastes and looks like sushi. Using only five other ingredients—organic gluten-free tamari, vinegar, natural herbs and spices—Corwell creates a product that "gives a great sushi experience." Made into nigiri, rolls or eaten solo, tomato sushi lacks the mercury, PCBs and toxins of seafood and is even safe for consumption by pregnant women.

What started off as a Kickstarter fundraising campaign has become a tuna revolution. "As the consumption of tuna increases, so does the need for an alternative replacement," says Corwell. Though he doesn't see tomato sushi replacing tuna entirely, he would like restaurants and large institutions like Google, Apple and hospitals to start serving his product alongside real tuna so that "tuna eaters can try it and see what they have been missing." 

Tomato sushi is currently available in ready-to-eat packs of nigiri in the prepared food section of Rainbow Grocery and at pop-up tastings throughout the Bay Area. Corwell is working on developing more sushi products, including eggplant unagi. 

Who knows, sushi bars may be going all vegan by 2016!

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