Lab grown? These burgers, chicken & sushi aren’t from farm or sea

By Sophie Morlin-Yron 24 January 2018
Beyond Meat's latest is a sausage made with plant protein but which tastes like the real deal.

Meat, fish, eggs & dairy that doesn't come from living animals.

Step aside, dry bean patties and stale veggie sushi.

Today we’re more ethically, environmentally and health conscious than ever before, so it should come as no surprise that meat-free alternatives are on the rise.

Food tech scientists around the world are perfecting formulas for everything from juicy lab-grown burgers and tuna, to vegan algae shrimp packed with salty seafood goodness.

Take a look at the companies fighting to perfect an alternative to animal produce…

Scientists at Mosa Meat are in the forefront of developing lab created met. Image by Mosa Meat.

Lab beef – it’s meat but it’s not

Arguably, some of the most radical new businesses on the scene are those growing meat in petri dishes, with some promising a “clean meat” revolution in just a few years.

Simply put, ‘cellular agriculture’, also called ‘in-vitro meat’ or ‘lab-grown meat’ is grown from animal cells in a lab.

Producers take a small biopsy  of the kind of meat we eat today, isolate the cells needed to grow more, and start to culture it.

Scientists at Dutch company Mosa Meat  – who served up the first lab-grown burgers at a tasting event in London in 2013 — say they’ll go to market within three years.

Not an easy task, though, given that first burger famously cost a whopping $325,000 to produce

“Getting the cost down to a competitive level is a big challenge,” Mosa Meat CEO Peter Verstrate tells The Memo“We need to set up a large supply chain that produces a culturing medium. Doing that and upscaling it, both requirements for getting the price down, will take time and resources.”

Thankfully, investors are already on the case. Big names like Richard Branson, Bill Gates and Google’s Sergey Brin have been known to support lab-made meat.

Memphis Meats have already served up meatballs and other lab grown produce in their test kitchen. Image: Memphis Meats

Birds served from the lab

There’s huge potential for lab-grown chicken, too.

San Francisco-based Memphis Meats has raised $22m so far, and their chefs have already served-up lab-made fried chicken, meatballs and duck in their test kitchen.

Like their competitors, the aim is to find a sustainable solution to the overconsumption of meat today and in the future, as there will be 10 billion hungry mouths to feed by 2050.

“Meat demand is growing rapidly around the world,” said co-founder and CEO Uma Valeti.

“We want the world to keep eating what it loves.”

Israeli biotech startup Super Meat has also partnered up with one of Europe’s largest poultry producers (PWH). It says it will be the first to mass commercialise chicken and has just signed a $300m deal with China.

Huge efforts go into making it taste “delicious” Super Meat CEO Ido Savir tells The Memo“Our team is comprised of a diverse group of top-tier scientists, food engineers and chefs.”

Food tech company Just, also known as Hampton Creek, is taking a different apporach to its lab grown chicken and beef using plant cells to supercharge the process. 

“With plants providing nutrients for animal cells to grow, we believe we can produce meat and seafood that is over ten times more efficient than the world’s highest volume slaughterhouse,” Just’s co-founder and CEO Josh Tetrick told The Memo.

The latest from company Just is scrambled eggs made from veggie protein, which can be used in anything from breakfast eggs to fried rice (pictured). Image by Just.

‘Clean’ eggs, milk and cheese?

Just is also already known for their egg-free condiments, Just Mayo and Just Ranch, and have recently launched a breakfast egg alternative called Just Scramble.

This looks and behaves like real eggs: congealing when exposed to heat in a way that can also be used in baked goods and dishes.

These egg alternatives aren’t lab-grown but made from mung bean protein, and seasoned with pepper and black onion.

However lab-made eggs, milk and cheese are just around the corner. Ventures like Perfect Day the Real Vegan Cheese, run by San Francisco-based Counter Culture Lab, are among the leaders in the field. 

The Impossible Burger has a unique ingredient which makes it taste like meat.

Bleeding plants

Of course the easiest way to eat less meat – is to eat less meat.

And brands like Impossible Foods are taking all-vegetarian meat alternatives to brave new places. 

Already in shops are its ‘bleeding burgers’ from which contain entirely plant-based proteins from wheat, soy and coconut oil and are ‘seasoned’ with the magic molecule, heme.

“Heme is the driver of almost all meat’s flavour and we found a heme source called leghemoglobin from plants, that delivers the delicious, meaty experience,” Chief Strategy Officer Nick Halla tells The Memo.

“The Impossible Burger is made for meat lovers – it’s the only plant-based burger on the market that cooks, smells, tastes and feels like meat from a cow.”

Competitor Beyond Meat also make bloody burgers, but with beetroot juice. Its products are already in US supermarkets, and are slated for a UK launch this year, with a brand new veggie hot dog also hitting the shelves (pictured top).

It may look like the real deal but this tuna alternative is made from tomatoes. Image by Ocean Hugger Foods.

Sustainable seafood

Finally, if you’re a conscientious lover of seafood, you’ve not been overlooked.  

In a bid to revamp veggie sushi, Ocean Hugger Foods have developed Ahimi, a plant-based tuna product made from tomatoes. It’s already sold in Whole Foods and some restaurants in the US, and it’s got that distinctive umami taste.

CEO David Benzaquen told The Memo how master chef James Corwell was working in Japan but hated seeing how many tonnes of endangered tuna was being flogged at Tsukiji Fish Market.

“He knew it wasn’t sustainable and spent the next few years diligently mastering how to make tomatoes have the texture and taste of raw tuna for use in sushi, ceviche, poke, crudo and tartare.”

It’s not just for vegans either, he adds: “The vast majority of our consumers are not vegetarian and we’ve gotten rave reviews from many food critics like the New York Times.”

Scientists at New Wave Foods are also making plant-based shrimp from algae – which is already served up in restaurants in California and Nevada and will launch in shops this year.

Biotech startup Finless Foods however, is also the first company to take on lab-made fish.

It plans to launch its product – clean bluefin tuna – within the next two years, co-founder and CEO Brian Wyrwas told The Memo.

“We’re creating the cells that will eventually grow into the final product,” said Wyrwas. “We’re also fine-tuning the nutrient mixture that recapitulates what happens inside the fish, but makes it happen outside of the fish instead.”

Are you ready for meat and fish that’s not from farm or sea?

More on Future Food here.