A study published today in the scientific journal Nature Food outlines a new way to give cell-based meat a realistic, well, meaty texture. In the study, which was authored by researchers from Israeli cultured meat company Aleph Farms and the Technion Institute of Technology, Israel, describe tests of a new 3D scaffold made of soy protein on which animal tissue can be grown. (Thanks for the tip, CNET.)
The scientists tested out the scaffold with bovine cells to create a sample that looked like beef muscle tissue. The scaffold is porous, which gives the animal cells space to latch on and grow their own interweaving matrix of tissue. It’s also edible and, since it’s made from soy, provides additional protein. Tasters in the study noted that the final product accurately mimicked the texture of beef and had a “meaty flavour.”
For those who don’t nerd out studying next-gen alternative protein, texture is one of the biggest hurdles facing consumer adoption of cell-based meat. Scientists may already be able to grow muscle and fat tissues, but putting them together in a way that emulates the texture of meat is a much trickier issue. That’s why most of the samples of cultured meat and seafood displayed during culinary demos thus far — shrimp dumplings from Shiok Meats, chicken nuggets from JUST, and beef burgers from Mosa Meat — have the texture of ground meat.
However, companies and scientists around the world are experimenting with new ways to grow animal tissue cells. Aleph Farms, whose researchers helped write the aforementioned study, has successfully grown cell-based steak, albeit in very thin cuts. Memphis Meats’ technology allows it to grow pretty realistic-looking cuts of cultured chicken. Atlast Foods uses mycelium (mushrooms roots) to create edible scaffolds on which to grow muscle cuts like beef. Researchers are also experimenting with materials like spinach, gelatin, and even LEGOs as cultured meat scaffolding material.
We’re still likely several years from tasting cell-based meat ourselves, no matter the texture. Before it can hit the U.S. market, cultured meat has to gain regulatory approval from both the FDA and the USDA — and we don’t know if the timeline might be slowed down by the current global pandemic. Looking on the bright side: maybe that equates to more time for researchers to continue to solve the cultured meat texture problem.