Jthere’s nothing like the sizzle of a steak hitting a hot cast iron skillet here. First comes the heady aroma of caramelized meat, followed by the smoke of charred fat. Juice splashes and my mouth automatically starts watering with anticipation. Then my stomach tightens with guilt.
As a climate correspondent, I try to avoid beef. The global livestock industry is responsible for more than 14% of all man-made greenhouse gas emissions into our atmosphere, almost as much as road transport, aviation and shipping combined.
Industrial cattle farming is one of the world’s biggest sources of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is 80 times more effective at trapping short-term heat than C02. Growing crops to feed the cattle industry leads to deforestation, generating even greater emissions. In order to take the collective foot off the accelerator that is bringing us to certain climate catastrophe, the World Resources Institute, an environmental research organization, suggests that residents of the Americas, Europe and Oceania limit their consumption of red meat. the equivalent of two hamburgers. one week.
Israeli startup Aleph Farms says it would be better to eat steak. His steak, that is to say a rich slice of meat from stem cells, in a bioreactor, without cows or slaughter. Its “cultured meat”, which is the industry’s preferred term, is not yet commercially available – no cultured meat product has passed regulatory approval outside of Singapore – but the company m invited to try on its signature fit at its factory in Rehovot, half an hour south of Tel Aviv. There, company co-founder Didier Toubia promised me a taste of the future, in which a beautiful rib steak, seared to perfection, is no longer served on a bed of methane emissions with a side loss of biodiversity in the Amazon rainforests.
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Aleph Farms, like many of the more than 100 cultured meat and fish companies founded in the last decade, starts with stem cells grown in a bioreactor filled with nutrient broth. Each company has its own proprietary method of inducing these cells to differentiate into proteins or fats, which continue to grow until they clump together into ground meat-like formations, at which time they can be harvested and processed. into hamburgers, sausages or breaded nuggets. Aleph Farms doesn’t stop there. Instead, the company adds a few extra steps to create a structured steak with the texture and flavor of a filet mignon.
It would be easier to aim for a ground meat product, Toubia says, but that doesn’t resonate the same as a good cut of steak. “We need to establish an emotional connection with consumers if we want to drive acceptance. Starting at the high end is a way of positioning our product to make it more appealing. Toubia invokes Tesla as an analogy – aiming for a premium offering by nailing the details.” They didn’t invent the electric vehicle, they were just the first to do it right.
Getting a good steak is one of the toughest pieces of engineering for cultured meat companies. Aleph Farms has cracked the code by tricking meat, fat and connective tissue cells into growing along an almost microscopic, plant-based scaffold that allows these cells to replicate the muscle fibers of cultured meat. in a conventional way. The combined tissues are then cultured in a second nutrient broth for four weeks, at which time the “steak” is approximately the size of a smartphone and ready to sear on the grill.
The company is currently working on a second iteration that uses a 3D bio-printer (using living cells instead of ink) to combine their structured fibers with fat cells to create a thick, marbled steak – the “holy grail”, according to Tubia. They’ve made a few so far, he says, but not enough for tastings outside of the company.
Aleph’s focus on beef over chicken, which is easier to grow, and steak over ground meat, puts it behind other alternative protein companies when it comes to racing at the market. GOOD Meat, a division of US food technology company Eat Just, Inc., already sells its Singapore-grown chicken. Israel’s SuperMeat offers invitation-only tastings in its sleek laboratory bistro where diners feast on crispy chicken burgers and hot dogs against the backdrop of bioreactors busy producing the next batch.
Read more: Cultured meat passes the taste test
Over the next few months, the US Department of Agriculture is expected to decide whether or not (and if so, how) cultured meats can be sold domestically. Industry watchers say clearance is likely. Once sales are allowed in the United States, other countries will soon follow, and companies around the world will begin marketing their meat products grown in what will likely be the biggest meat revolution since the domestication of cattle. Aiming for higher stakes (ahem) may hamper Aleph’s progress in the market, but Toubia ignores the competition, convinced that slow and steady progress wins in the end. “First to market is not necessarily an advantage with new food categories. Our priority is impact, for the planet, and taste, for consumer acceptance.
He might be on to something. My thin-cut steak, brushed with butter and seasoned simply with salt and pepper, hits the hot grill in Aleph’s show kitchen with an audible hiss. The smell of seared meat wafts over me as the chef of the house flips a credit card sized portion onto my plate. The steak is disappointing – I’ll have to come back another time for the thicker 3D-printed version – but it’s as tender and juicy as the inside of a filet mignon. As I cut it, the meat tears into strands more characteristic of a beef brisket, but without any dryness. I take a bite. The flavor is pure meat – a caramelized crust giving way to savory richness. The square shape and thin cut betray the bioreactor origins of my steak, but with my eyes closed I couldn’t tell the difference. With my last bite, I realize Toubia got it wrong. It doesn’t taste like the future. It tastes like steak. Without the guilt.
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