Tank to tongue: is aquaponics the future of farming food?

The innovation arm of Ikea, called Space10, has used a sustainable system to grow fish and plants together to reimagine the taco, among other meals.

18 July 2018
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image credit: Space10

Inside Ikea’s research lab, Space10, the taco of tomorrow is being created.

While the ingredients don’t sound futuristic – freshwater fish, pea-shoot mole, hot sauce, a salsa verde made with chilli, herbs and vegetables – it’s the way the food has been grown that makes the project interesting.

The lab has already reimagined the Ikea’s famous meatball using alternative ingredients such as insects, algae and lab-grown meat. Now, it has taken on the taco, making it with ingredients grown by an aquaponics system located in the basement of its Copenhagen headquarters.

So what exactly is an aquaponics system and could it be the future of farming?

Fish food

Aquaponics is like a marriage between aquaculture – where fish are farmed – and hydroponics, where plants are grown in a nutrient solution rather than soil. In this style of farming, the fish and plants are grown together in a closed-loop system.

This means the fish are reared in tanks and a circulation system breaks down their waste, which is then absorbed by the plants. No fertilisers, pesticides or herbicides are required, making aquaponics sustainable and eco-friendly. It’s certainly fish food with a difference.

But is it scalable? According to Space10, the design of aquaponics is flexible, meaning a system can be installed anywhere from warehouses to rooftops, as well as below ground in basements.

In the Space10 system, the aquaponics farm is growing the likes of perch, herbs such as coriander and parsley, and vegetables that include tomatoes and chilli peppers.

Eating the ecosystem

Space10’s latest creation has been nicknamed the Holy Mole Fish Tacos. It’s made with fillets of perch cured in salt, sugar and aquaponically grown dill; a mole of crushed, fresh pea-shoots combined with peas, garlic, lemon and salt;and a salsa verde consisting of cucumbers, green tomatoes, green chilli, coriander and parsley. Even the hot sauce is made with aquaponically raised tomatoes and chillies.

Space10 have dubbed it ‘tank to tongue’ cuisine.

“I looked at all the elements in a traditional taco and created a dish containing ingredients we can grow in an aquaponics system,” explained Space10’s chef and food designer Simon Perez. “You could say that, with this little treat, you’reactually eating an entire ecosystem.”

But the avocado doesn’t get a look in with the taco, as Space10 is concerned about the unprecedented demand for the green fruit indirectly fuelling illegal deforestation and environmental degradation, as well as the hefty amount of water required to grow the produce.

image credit: Space10

Future fast food?

While Space10 stuck with the traditional for its Mexican taco, it has also recently reinvented some favourite fast-food meals, although the ingredients weren’t grown aquaponically.

First up is the Dogless Hotdog. The star of the show is the bun, which is made with spirulina – the micro-algae that contains more beta-carotene than carrots, more chlorophyll than wheatgrass, and 50 times more iron than spinach. It’s stuffed with dried and glazed baby carrots, beet and berry ketchup, mustard and turmeric cream, roasted onions, cucumber salad, and a herb salad mix.

Then there’s the Bug Burger. Each patty contains 100g of beetroot, 50g of parsnip, 50g of potatoes and 50g of mealworms  (the larval form of a darkling beetle). It comes with a white-flour bun, topped with relish, beetroot and blackcurrant ketchup, chive spread and hydroponic salad mix.

For the flexitarians out there, Space10 has also developedtwo versions of the Neatball – one made with mealworm and another purely plant-based with carrots, parsnips and beets.

The research group has also looked at an overhaul of the humble salad. Space10 developed three combinations of microgreens, sprouts and herbs: red veined sorrel, broccoli and tarragon; pea sprouts, pink stem radish and thyme; and borage, red frill mustard and lemon balm.

Microgreens are something that the Chop’d chain is already putting into their salads, but Space10 has taken it a step further with Microgreen Ice Cream, which comes in flavours such as fennel, coriander, basil and mint. The base is made with 60g of sugar for a 600g batch, with additional sweetness coming from a mix of apple juice, apples and lemon juice.

Not content with the scoops of ice cream, there are also popsicles made with a choice of hydroponically grown herbs, including woodruff, coriander, Spanish chervil and sorrel.

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