Israeli-based cultured meat company MeaTech 3D is putting people at the edge of their seats as they try for the first time their cultured nuggets, made of plant-based protein and in-house produced cultured chicken fat biomass.
The rising demand for meat is driving the search for alternatives that could as well lower its carbon footprint. Although more environmentally friendly than traditional patties, plant-based burgers and nuggets still do not fully satisfy consumers’ expectations as they lack juiciness and taste deriving from animal fat.
Since 2019, one of MeaTech’s primary goals has been to reach that perfect juiciness and taste by adding just one single ingredient to plant-based. In 2021 the company acquired its now wholly own subsidiary Peace of Meat (PoM), a Belgian company that had been working on creating that missing ingredient in the lab.
By adding their cultured chicken fat biomass to a plant-based protein the result is a meatier aromatized nugget, that the company has started to put to test at food tasting in their headquarters in Rehovot, Israel, the epicenter of the country’s foodtech sector: “People say it is like it’s science fiction: you really don’t understand it until you’ve tasted it,” says Arik Kaufman, co-founder & CEO of MeaTech.
After these positive trials, the company now is setting its first pilot plant to push the production of cultured biomass at a scalable level: “The fact that we are establishing the pilot plant now means that we feel very comfortable with our capabilities to scale and we feel very comfortable with our cell line,” said Kaufman.
Belgian holy grail
MeaTech 3D is headquartered in Rehovot, popular among lab-grown meat startups and other biotech companies planning to make a change in the food sector.
But their first plant to produce their juicy holy grail will be set in the Belgian city of Antwerp, where Peace of Meat is located since 2019. In late 2021, the wholly own Belgian subsidiary was able to produce a 700-gram jar of chicken fat biomass in a single production cycle: “I think the decisions that we’ve made in the very beginning to select a very specific cell type that nobody else was using and nobody else is still using in the culture meatspace has proven a good decision,” says Dirk Standaert, CEO of Peace of Meat.
The current bioreactor allows the company to work on such volumes: “But our target obviously, is to upscale further. The new facility will be used for R&D purposes and we will be able to house a lot more people,” he explains, as his team has grown exponentially in just one year.
According to Standaert with its 2000-liter bioreactor, the new R&D pilot will serve as a blueprint for the subsequent production facilities. The company confirms that it first needs to understand what is the most effective way to produce the biomass: “This is still a very R&D intensive industry, and we all want to do it properly.” adds Kaufman.
Plants and partnerships
In total, with just its first plant, MeaTech could produce around 20 tons of biomass per year, to be added as an ingredient to hybrid meat alternatives. Their hybrid approach to product development extends to their sales strategy: “We will both produce our own labeled steaks and nuggets, but we won’t close the door to companies which wish to purchase our biomass and integrate it into their products,” says Kaufmann.
MeaTech plans to establish between four to five factories worldwide by 2025, which could produce around 560 tons of biomass per year. Adding just one single ingredient able to give meatier and juicy features would be an asset for companies that wish to find solutions to enhance the taste and mouthfeel of their products while lowering costs and ingredients lists.
The company is further extending its collaboration with the Dutch-based mycoprotein start-up ENOUGH, which will combine the chicken biomass within their plant-based matrix: “We want to penetrate the market as soon as possible, so we looked for collaborations that made sense to us on a group level and that will enhance the go to market as fast as possible.” says Kaufman, hoping that the partnership will lead to a product to later submit to regulators for approval.
Sustainable farms of the future
According to the life cycle assessments conducted by researchers of the Dutch University of Delf, cultivated meat can offer environmental gains compared to conventional meat, especially when compared to beef production. The only way that cultured chicken or pork meat could have a lower footprint than traditional farming, would however be by using renewable energy to power bioreactors.
Kaufman says the company’s factories which will produce both stakes and biomass will be designed with a sustainable approach: “We do intend to have a circularity vision, where in order to harness our process we will be using clean energy,” adding that the goal is to make them fit to be installed in any climate conditions, from the deserts to Antarctica.
Meanwhile, in Rehovot and Antwerp, food trials continue to perfect the product. By now, the company has led seven official tasting events on its premises and seeks to do more.. As for plant-based products, there’s a lot of work to be done in order to mimic meat with scalable lab-grown products and in-house food scientists find it extremely helpful to have feedback on their latest trials. Kaufman says the bar is not that high: “The challenge is there, but it’s doable,” he concludes.