The final frontier seems to have inspired the next frontier of food. A “Star Trek“-like, food-on-demand 3D printer has just served up a real, cultivated fish fillet for the first time.
Steakholder Foods, a startup based in Israel, produced the 3D-printed cut of grouper – “a significant milestone in the food industry,” says Arik Kaufman, CEO of Steakholder Foods.
The fillet was created in collaboration with Singapore’s Umami Meats. “In this first tasting, we showcased a cultivated product that flakes, tastes, and melts in your mouth exactly like fish should,” says Mihir Pershad, Umami Meats cofounder and CEO.
Cultivated fish and meat is real protein that’s grown in a laboratory using stem cells instead of fish or livestock from a farm.
The emerging slaughter-free industry wants to match the taste of conventional meat but without the associated environmental costs.
“We are still eating and consuming meat the way that we’ve consumed thousands of years ago,” Kaufman tells CNN, “so we’ve decided to take a new approach to try and reinvent the way that meat is produced.”
The company’s nameake, steak, was its primary focus prior to the development of a fish filet.
Orit Goldman is the vice president for biology at Steakholder Foods. She says that stem cells are taken from animals and grown in bioreactors. The cells are differentiated into either fat or muscle cells, which eventually form tissues that will be the final meat products.
The differentiated muscle cells and fat cells will then be turned into bio-inks, a mixture of cells and bonding material. These cartridges are placed in a 3D printer. By customizing the fat composition, consumers can customize their steaks.
Your next steak could be printed by a 3D-printer
“Our secret sauce is in our printing capabilities,” Kaufman tells CNN, and while he adds that the steaks printed now don’t have the exact same taste and texture as the real thing, he’s confident they’ll get there in the next decade.
Israel, where Steakholder Foods is based, is recognized as a leading country in the alternative meat industry – and is even home to the first company to grow meat in space. In October 2021 the Israeli government established a cultivated beef consortium, backed with $18 million.
“You’re creating what is essentially identical to animal meat, but not growing all the other parts of the animal,” says Liz Specht, vice president of science and technology at the Good Food Institute (GFI), a nonprofit think tank focused on alternative proteins.
UN estimates that 90% of marine fishes are either overfished, or have been depleted. Livestock production accounts for almost 15% of greenhouse gasses. According to a 2022 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, lab-grown meat could help lower those emissions by reducing land, water, and nutrient usage – though a recent University of California, Davis study awaiting peer review warns of environmental costs of scaling up cultivated beef using current processes.
The cultivated meat industry and the seafood industry are relatively new to the alternative protein market, which also includes well-known options like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.
What began with NASA research in 2006 has since ballooned during the last decade – over 150 companies across six continents have emerged to develop all kinds of cultivated fare, from chicken nuggets and fish sticks.
More recently in the US, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) declared lab-grown chicken from Good Meat safe to eat in March – the FDA’s second safety nod for a cultivated meat company. However, there are regulatory hurdles that need to be cleared before consumers will have the option to purchase these products. Singapore was the only commercially available cultivated meat product in the world at the time this article was written.
As with many new ideas, the industry will likely face some hesitancy from the public, says David Block, lead professor at UC Davis’ Cultivated Meat Consortium in California.
“Consumer acceptance is going to be a sizable barrier for this industry, and (companies) are going to have to really think about what they do as they release their products onto the market,” he says.
He says that there are ways to avoid this, including tailoring products so they taste better, are more nutritious and have a long shelf life.
“One way is to create hybrid products, so something that (combines) cultivated meat with plant-based meat or conventional meat,” Block tells CNN. “And to me, that’s going to be the real power of all of this work that’s going on now – somewhere 15, 20 years down the road, there will be products on the market that we don’t even imagine now.”
Will each species one day have a cultivated version? Block doesn’t think so – but what we will see, according to GFI’s Specht, is greater availability to meat and seafood all over the planet.
“It could actually be a great democratizing instrument to give access to the whole menu, so to speak,” she says.