Tilapia tales: Singapore’s Aqua Gold banks on valorisation and clean label trends to launch new furikake brand

By Pearly Neo

- Last updated on GMT

New furikake brand O.NILO is striving to meet consumer demands such as nutrition, valorisation and clean label. ©Aqua Gold
New furikake brand O.NILO is striving to meet consumer demands such as nutrition, valorisation and clean label. ©Aqua Gold

Related tags Singapore Upcycling Clean label Fish

Singapore-based Aqua Gold believes that rising interest in food products that can meet the elements of nutrition, valorisation and clean label have laid out a strong foundation for the success of its new furikake brand O.NILO.

Aqua Gold originated as a group from the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT) and is not yet formally listed as a company, but its seasoning product furikake has already gained interest from industry players and investors after winning the SIT-Massey University Food Product Awards earlier this year.

The group also recently took home the Gold Award in the Mapletree Challenge 2024.

It’s brand O.NILO – named after the scientific name of the tilapia fish Oreochromis niloticus – lays claim to being the first in Singapore to focus on non-Japanese Asian furikake flavours, with an upcycling and clean label twist.

“Furikake has Japanese origins, which means that most of these products were developed for the Japanese palate, and we wanted to look at the development of more local flavours for this market such as spicy mala and salted egg,”​ Aqua Gold spokeswoman Chevonne Luo told FoodNavigator-Asia​.

“We use tilapia fingerlings and soy by-product okara to make the furikake, and tilapia was chosen due several reasons including its hardiness and ability to thrive in a limited space, fast harvesting turnover, and potential for zero waste as the entire fish from bones to guts is used in making our product.

“This also means that very reduced processing time and effort is required as there is no need for any degutting or deboning – not to mention the high nutritious value of 57% dietary fire, 30% protein, 10% fats along with minerals such as calcium, potassium, iron and antioxidants.

“So it is clear that the benefits from this are multi-fold from the nutrition to the valorisation to the sustainability aspects, and we have also taken this a step further by ensuring that the furikake is free of additives and preservatives and essentially clean label – we even mixed the mala and salted egg flavourings ourselves such that no E numbers are used at all.”

The original variant of the furikake lists tilapia, canola oil, okara, sugar, salt, seaweed, sesame seeds, spices, yeast extract, garlic, shallots and soya sauce in its ingredients list. The salted egg flavour ads duck egg yolk and full cream milk powder to the mix, whereas the mala flavour adds various chillis, peanut, and Sichuan peppercorn.

Aqua Gold is also making a play at being linked to the Singapore government’s 30-by-30 target, and to this end it emphasises the use of tilapia from local hatchery farms and okara from local soybean companies.

“We already have some interested local investors and industry players who have been enquiring about our products, and are working towards getting these listed both online and offline,”​ Aqua Gold spokeswoman Evelyn Ng told us.

“The whole point is to have this be accessible to as many consumers as possible, so the aim is to be in places like convenience stores such as 7-11, supermarkets such as NTUC FairPrice, e-commerce platforms such as Shopee and so on; and importantly this will be at an affordable price of S$2.80 (US$2.07) per 40g pack.”

Okara odyssey

According to Aqua Gold team leader Tsai Kok Pow, okara has gained significant momentum as a valorisation ingredient in Singapore due to its abundance and nutritional value.

“The high fibre and high protein of okara has been recognised to be a good source of nutrition, but more often than not a lot of this is used dry after moisture is removed, due to the desire to prolong shelf life,”​ he told us.

“One area of differentiation for us is that we have looked at using fresh okara, given we are in a market with such as abundance of this from local suppliers, and this gives an added edge as it eliminates the extra energy use needed for the evaporation process.”

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