Save Da Sea, and the need for vegan seafood options. words :: Feet Banks.
By pretty much any metric, the oceans are in distress. The plastic-laden garbage patch floating out in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is estimated to be about twice the size of Texas, microplastics are widely distributed across oceanic area, depth and food chains, and illegal/irresponsible/greedy/ass-backward overfishing practices continue to decimate fish populations. Many scientists predict a total ocean collapse by 2048.
Faced with these depressing realities, one common-sense solution shines through: we need to eat less seafood. So that is where Aki Kaltenbach is starting: “If you go to a sushi restaurant and I can get one dish of your meal to be vegan, then I feel like I’m doing my job.”
A longtime Whistler local now based out of Victoria, Kaltenbach is the founder and CEO of Save Da Sea, a plant-based seafood company she started while managing popular Whistler sushi joint, Harajuku. “A lot of it was to satisfy my own choices,” she says. “I was vegan and half our staff at Harajuku were as well. The average age there was 24—this is a young peoples’ movement—and I started thinking: what will sushi restaurants look like in ten years, or 20 years?”
Acknowledging that wild salmon is a species already at risk, and adamant that farmed salmon is not an option (“it is so disgusting”), Kaltenbach began messing around with her own recipes and developed a smoked salmon lox alternative made from carrots.
“Carrots are common for vegan smoked salmon,” she says. “And I was lucky because I had a sushi restaurant and chefs that could make it into a roll and help me test it.”
Originally planning to sell strictly to the restaurant industry, Kaltenbach was forced to pivot when the COVID pandemic struck and closed restaurants across the province. Currently sold at 42 BC restaurants and grocery stores (including Nesters and Whole Foods), Save Da Sea plant-based smoked salmon is made in Vancouver and ships about 10,000 packages per month. Ontario and Quebec are the next targets on Kaltenbach’s hit list.
With her first vegan seafood option under her belt, Kaltenbach has plans for a vegan tuna salad alternative in the near future, as well as frozen scallop and calamari substitutes made from mushrooms. And while the seafood-alternative industry is currently ballooning with startups creating lab-grown “cell-based” “cultured” or “clean” seafood, Kaltenbach says she has no plans to enter the arena of petri dishes and cloned proteins.
“We don’t play in that space, nor do we want to,” she explains. “We are plant-based and made from simple ingredients. That’s something I think about as a mom—sure, that burger alternative is great but what are some of these ingredients? I don’t know what we’re eating. Our carrot lox has nine ingredients—all things you can recognize. We’re not trying to fool anyone… there’s a carrot on the package.”
Save Da Sea’s plant-based smoked salmon contains: carrots, maple syrup, apple cider vinegar, sunflower oil, sea salt, natural smoke flavour, organic flax oil, seaweed and lactic acid. It tastes awesome on an eggs benny. savedasea.com