An Israeli company unveiled the first 3D-printed rib-eye steak on Tuesday, using a culture of live animal tissue, in what could be a leap forward for lab-grown meat once it receives regulatory approval.
During the coronavirus pandemic, alternative protein products have soared in popularity, prompting nearly every multinational food corporation to hasten to bring its own versions to market. Frequently plant-based products have been patties or processed nuggets – “everyday” foods easier for companies to produce – that aim to ease the climate effects of the worst offender: Americans eat nearly 50 billion burgers a year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Aleph Farms’ new 3D bioprinting technology- which uses living animal cells as opposed to plant-based alternatives – allows for premium whole-muscle cuts to come to market, broadening the scope of alt-meat in what is expected to be a rich area of expansion for food companies. A survey of more than 1,000 U.S. adults, conducted by MRS research company for agriculture company Proagrica, showed that 39% of American consumers have considered going vegetarian or vegan since the pandemic began. Health concerns, climate change and animal welfare are drivers.
Several other companies are sprinting to capture what is expected to be a robust appetite for what is often called “cultivated meat.” San Diego-based BlueNalu has announced its intent to bring cell-based seafood products to market in the second half of this year; Israel-based Future Meat Technologies and Dutch companies Meatable and Mosa Meat aim to have cultivated meat products in the market by 2022, each with proprietary methods of growing meat tissues from punch biopsies from live or slaughtered animals.
But the lack of a regulatory framework could stymie the companies’ race to market. In December, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu became the world’s first head of state to eat cultivated meat, and that same month Singapore became the first country in the world to grant regulatory approval for the sale of cultivated meat. It remains unclear when other countries will follow suit. In the United States, the Food and Drug Administration has not set a date for when it will rule on the matter.
The new meat-making process, developed with research partners at the Israel Institute of Technology, prints living cells that are incubated on a plant-based matrix to grow, differentiate and interact to achieve the texture and qualities of a real steak. It has a system similar to an animal’s vascular system, which allows cells to mature and nutrients to move across thicker tissue, resulting in a steak with a similar shape and structure to traditional cow tissue before and during cooking.
“It’s not just proteins, it’s a complex, emotional product,” says Aleph chief executive Didier Toubia. He says the product mirrors the sensory quality, texture, flavor and fatty marbling of a traditionally produced rib-eye.