Salmon grown from cells by US company Wildtype, one of the pioneers of so-called 'cultivated' seafood. GFI will make the results of TFTAK's research available to companies in the field.

Scientists seek to sniff out secrets of salmon aroma

‘Alternative’ foods group funds research into creating the scent from plants


Researchers are aiming to recreate the unique aroma of salmon using plants to support the development of alternative seafood products.

The work is being led by Dr Sirli Rosenvald from Estonia’s Centre of Food and Fermentation Technologies (TFTAK), whose team will take samples of salmon and unpick the fish’s complex scent “molecule by molecule”.

They will then identify which chemicals are associated with the distinctive aroma, before creating a series of scent profiles and working with a panel of sensory experts who will decide which most closely resembles the mouth-watering smell of salmon hitting the pan.

As these molecules can be produced from naturally occurring fatty acids, the team will use this information to recreate the aroma using oils extracted from plants, algae and microbes.

Hundreds of molecules

The result will be an ingredient that food producers can add to plant-based or “cultivated” fish alternatives, making them smell and taste more authentic. Cultivated fish is a term used to describe fish meat grown from cells in bioreactors.

Sirli Rosenfeld: Smell is closely linked to the taste and dining experience of salmon.

The findings of the research will be made available to start-ups and established food companies – many of which already use these fatty acids – providing insights into how they can adapt their existing manufacturing processes to produce similar aromas.

Rosenvald, head of protein research, sensomics and meat alternative development at TFTAK, said: “We’re going to work through the hundreds of molecules that make up the aroma, and hope to break this down to the 10 or 20 that are most crucial to the smell of salmon, which is closely linked to the taste and whole dining experience.

“A lot of the alternative seafood products currently on the market need improving. If we want to create more sustainable seafood, we have to make products that taste and smell like the products people are familiar with.”

Good Food Institute

The work is being funded by the Good Food Institute (GFI), an international NGO working to advance new ways of making meat, seafood and dairy, which invited researchers to find ways of overcoming this challenge in its 2022 Competitive Grants programme.

Rosenvalt was one of eight European scientists and 21 from around the world who received funding from the programme, which supports innovative open-access research to develop sustainable proteins.

GFI said that with very little public funding dedicated to sustainable protein research and development, it set up the programme with the support of philanthropic donors to help fill the funding gap.