3D-Printed Meat: The next dimension in meat alternatives
With the steady growth of global meat consumption over the last century it’s easy to assume that our love for meat is as stubborn and widespread as ever. That, however, doesn’t tell the full story. In the past decade or so, appetites have evolved and demand for meat alternatives is skyrocketing.
That’s good news for animal lovers and even better news for the planet. The UN has highlighted meat as a major contributor to climate change and recommended that eating less meat and dairy could lead to 8 billion tonnes less CO2 per year. As demand for meat alternatives grows, scientists and entrepreneurs have been searching for different methods for creating sustainable, ethical meat substitutes…
One of the newest methods? 3D-printed meat. Yes, you read that right.
How does it work?
3D-printed meats tend to fall into one of two categories. There are those made entirely from vegetable matter and those that use lab-grown animal cells. One firm causing a stir across these spaces is Barcelona-based NOVAMEAT. Their ultimate goal is to create the world’s premier 3D-printed steak.
“We want to create the Tesla Roadster or iPhone moment for the future of food,” says founder and CEO Giuseppe Scionti, “alternative meats should just be for the environment or animals or health, they should be superior compared to what they’re trying to compete with. The Holy Grail is pork and steak.”
Remaking the steak
Steak is especially difficult to recreate thanks to its streaks of fibrous protein and marbled fat. This is what necessitates specialized 3D printing. A detailed 3D model must be fed into the printer that illustrates both the internal and external structure of the cut, then through intricate microextrusion technology, the printer produces thin strands of fibre just 100-500 micrometres wide, perfectly crafted to best imitate the precise mouthfeel, appearance, taste, and nutritional properties of the meat.
But what’s it actually made of? Well, the vegetable-based steaks are 65-70% water and 25% yellow pea and rice protein, with the remainder made up of various oils. Alongside their fully vegetarian offerings, NOVAMEAT is also experimenting with a new form of steak that’s created by fusing animal fat cells to a biocompatible plant-based scaffold.
Other companies like Israel’s MeaTech3D, use animal stem cells grown in incubators which are then printed in layers to form steaks. In California, Eat Just create lab-grown chicken by culturing meat in special bioreactors.
Why should we care?
Printers have moved on from junk mail and lost cat posters to become futuristic meat-making machines – so what? Even as Western consumers have become more open to trying meat alternatives in recent years, pricing still favours cheap n’ nasty intensively farmed meat. 3D printing has the potential to drive costs down and make meat alternatives a realistic alternative for money-conscious shoppers.
The Japanese beef Kobe Wagyu is just as famous for its high price as its delicious taste and has recently been given the 3D-printing treatment by researchers at Japan’s Osaka University, a step that might one day make this luxury cut cheaper and more sustainable than ever before possible.
One of the researchers behind the project, Michiya Mtsusaki, highlighted other possibilities of 3D-printed meat, saying “By improving this technology, it will be possible to not only reproduce complex meat structures such as the beautiful marbling of Wagyu beef but to also make subtle adjustments to the fat and muscle components.”
With these adjustments, there’s a chance that one day customers might be able to order a cut of cultured meat that has the exact amount of fat they desire, tailor-made to their tastes and health concerns.
What’s the future for 3D-printed meat?
Making realistic meat substitutes isn’t easy, but the industry seems close to a breakthrough. 2021 has been hailed as the year that 3D printed meats will begin to launch in high-end restaurants around the world. This year, NOVAMEAT have partnered with double Michelin Starred restaurant Disfrutar while Israeli company Redefine Meat are expected to launch their ‘Alt-Steaks’ at restaurants in Israel soon, with rollout plans for European restaurants and supermarkets slated for next year.
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