A few weeks ago Wild Type, the San Francisco-based startup growing salmon in a lab, did a tasting of its cultured salmon.
Sadly I was not there to taste the goods (hint hint, guys). But I did get to connect with Wild Type co-founders Aryé Elfenbein and Justin Kolbeck over the phone this week to learn more about how their dinner went and what’s next for the cellular aquaculture startup.
According to the co-founders, the taste test was a critical step in their R&D process. While there are things they still want to improve on their product — tasters apparently thought the flavor was quite faint and the color wasn’t as vibrant as wild salmon — they were impressed with how the salmon adapted to a variety of dishes.
Wild Type’s salmon falls apart if it’s heated above 212°F, so for now the company is focusing on raw applications. Their first product will be a smoked salmon similar to lox. Apparently Wild Type’s scientists can already produce a thin sheet of salmon that’s 10.5 inches x 11 inches, which can then be sliced, cold smoked, and presumably put on a bagel alongside schmear and capers.
While they eventually want to sell their cell-based lox directly to consumers, the Wild Type founders first need to get their price down. Way down.
Right now, Kolbeck and Elfenbein estimated that it cost roughly $200 dollars to produce one serving of their cultured salmon. (They specifically referenced the cost of to make the eight-piece spicy salmon sushi roll they served at their recent dinner.) Though high-quality wild salmon is pricey, up to $30 a pound, Wild Type still has a ways to go before their fish is cost-competitive with the real thing. Kolbeck explained that they’re currently working on making their animal-free cell media — one of the biggest costs in cellular agriculture/aquaculture — more efficient, which would make the growth process significantly cheaper.
Kolbeck and Elfenbein wouldn’t give a timeline for their product release, but seeing as they won’t launch until they’re at least close to price parity with traditional salmon — roughly one-tenth their current cost — it’ll likely be several years at least.
However, Wild Type does have one significant advantage over companies like JUST and Mosa Meats, which claim to be closer to bringing their cultured meat to market. Fish are cold-blooded, so the startup’s salmon cells can be grown at room temperature. Mammalian and avian cells, on the other hand, have to be grown in little ovens to stay warm. That means that cultured fish requires fewer energy inputs than cultured beef, pork, or chicken, and can also be produced more cheaply.
For now, Wild Type is focused on perfecting their product, reducing growth costs, and planning more tastings of their salmon. Maybe this writer will be able to snag an invite for the next one.