All You Need To Know About Cultured Meat
The concept of cultured meat is gaining traction in the food industry. There’s also a growing curiosity among consumers to understand what exactly it is and why it is being developed. In this article, we provide readers with an insightful overview of cultured meat from A-to-Z.
What is cultured meat?
Cultured meat is real meat produced from animal stem cells rather than from slaughtered animals. The term “cultured meat” (also known as cultivated meat) refers to the biological process of growing and differentiating stem cells into muscle and fat cells and then enabling them to develop into tissue that can be cooked and eaten. The science itself is well established and has been used for years in the field of regenerative medicine.
How is cultured meat made?
Creating cultured meat requires a precise scientific procedure. The first step is collecting stem cells from living tissue. And not all cells are equal. The savvy biologist knows how to choose the strongest ones. Once the stem cells are collected, they are placed in a media that provides them with an optimal environment for proliferation and development. An optimal environment means giving them the nutrients, vitamins and amino acids they would ordinally receive inside the body of an animal. When they reach optimal numbers, the stem cells differentiate into muscle cells and fat cells. Finally, the muscle cells and fat cells turn into meat that can be used for burgers, kebab, meat loaf, meat pie, hybrid products – you name it!
From person to planet, what are the benefits of eating cultured meat?
Investments in cultured meat companies and other initiatives reached all time highs in 2020 and 2021. Projections see the cultured meat industry’s value growing to $25B by 2030 (Source: Mckinsey). This widespread belief in cultured meat is driven by its potential numerous environmental, ethical and social benefits.
Benefits of cultured meat for consumers
The alternative protein industry is on the rise and catering to consumers who want to reduce to eliminate their meat intake for a variety of reasons. Many do not want to be associated with what they see as problematic meat industry practices. Others shy away from meat products on moral grounds or because of personal dietary preferences.
But industry players understand that most people still like meat. So in response, manufacturers are trying to mimic meat with products such as burgers and steaks and using ingredients which include soy, mushrooms, peas, etc. However, in an attempt to mimic the flavor and texture of meat, these types of products must be made with unhealthy additive ingredients and extra processing.
Cultured meat doesn’t have this problem. Because it is produced using the same raw materials, i.e., muscle and fat cells, as conventional meat, there is no need to add ingredients to manipulate the taste or texture. The authentic meatiness of the final product is determined by the intricate biological processes of growing the cells and cell tissue in the lab. The idea of 100% cultured meat is that the final product is real meat – muscle and fat. So, for people who wish to eat less meat for moral reasons, cultured meat will be a very appealing option. As far as health issues go, cultured meat will have the same nutritional content of conventional meat. And like conventional meat, cultured meat will be able to be offered with varying degrees of fat content.
When compared to regular conventional meat, cultured meat will not include antibiotics or growth hormones, a far too common practice used with animals designated for slaughter. And since cultured meat is produce in sterile labs (and in the future in factories) without using animals, it does not have the risk of foodborne pathogens, such as E. Coli or salmonella, like conventional meat does.
Environmental benefits of cultured meat production
There is a widespread global acknowledgment that in order to curb the meat industry’s high carbon footprint and vast land and water consumption, alternatives must be developed. According to the Good Food Institute, cultured meat will significantly reduce livestock-based land usage, with estimations ranging from a 63%-to-95% reduction.
Out of all global greenhouse gas emissions that come from food production, animal-based food production is responsible for 57% (Source: Nature Food). According to a study conducted by Oxford University in 2011, cultured meat production can potentially emit 96% less greenhouse gasses than meat that is produced via traditional methods (Source: University of Oxford).
Benefits of cultured meat for animals
Traditional meat industry practices have raise numerous concerns with respect to animal welfare. Animals raised for slaughter are too often held in conditions that jeopardize their health and well-being, which in turn effects the quality and safety of the meat produced. In addition, slaughter in itself is widely viewed as an act of cruelty.
Cultured meat offers an entirely new direction for meat production. By ethically harvesting stem cells, cultured meat offers a way to eat meat without slaughtering animals or compromising their welfare.
When will cultured meat be available?
For now, cultured meat is available for sale and consumption only in Singapore. The Singapore Food Agency gave a regulatory green light to selling cultured meat in late 2020, and the FDA and USDA are working to create clear regulations for the cultured meat industry in the US (Source: Reuters). As we look to the future, all experts agree that the enormous positive impact of the cultured meat industry is just around the corner.
How much will cultured meat cost?
The cost of cultured meat depends on a variety of parameters – from scale to the cell media, to the type of meat being cultivated or printed. Since 2013, when the first cultured meat burger was developed for a price tag of $330,000, the production cost has decreased dramatically. Yet a cultured burger is still more expensive to produce than a conventional meat burger. And the same is also true (and even more so) for structured meat like steak.
Continued improvements in the science and technology of cultured meat production along with widespread industrial scaling efforts will help bring costs down. Public acceptance will also play a large part in how soon companies can move forward with scaling their operations. According to a 2021 study by CE Delft, cultured meat could be cost competitive with some forms of conventional meat by 2030.
Does cultured meat taste like conventional animal meat?
In order for the public to embrace cultured meat, it must taste like conventional animal meat. Meat lovers covet meat first and foremost for its umami flavor, which is based on a combination of fat, amino acids, proteins, sugar, and more. In order for a cultured steak to taste like a conventional steak, the exact taste profile must be replicated in the lab. In this respect, the stem cells’ rich media environment plays a key role. The good news is that it is indeed possible to create the proper blend of nutrients and amino acids for cells to thrive in a lab setting as they do in nature.
What’s next in the world of cultured meat?
The number of cultured meat companies is growing, and cultured meat is poised to revolutionize the food industry as we know it. It is expected that in the 1-3 years, regulatory restrictions will be resolved, and many countries will allow the sale of cultured meat. Until that happens, the industry will continue to perfect its technology and techniques while improving its scale-up operations. Steakholder Foods is playing a significant leadership role in this burgeoning industry and is working tirelessly to bring fairly priced, great-tasting, slaughter-free meat products to the public.