Japan Researchers Create Cultivated ‘Whole’ Steak Cube
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University of Tokyo professor Shoji Takeuchi and his colleagues say they have succeeded in producing the world’s first cultivated cubed steak.
The diced steak was first produced in 2019, when Takeuchi and his team produced a three-dimensional muscle tissue measuring about a cubic centimeter, which the team says can grow to larger cuts. Currently, most cultivated meat is minced, but the majority of animal meat sales are whole cuts.
Cultivated whole cuts
“Most startup companies are thinking of ways to commercialize lab-grown meat quickly,” Takeuchi told Japan Times in a recent interview. Much of that meat is being produced as chicken nuggets or hamburgers.
“What we are trying to create, on the other hand, is a beefsteak, a chunk of beef, where muscle fibers are neatly aligned in parallel position. They can twitch like real muscles when stimulated by electricity. Few people in the world are thinking of creating such meat,” he said.
But the tech is still a long way off from marketable, Takeuchi said.
“Although we extracted cells from cattle, cultured them and recreated cattle tissues, what we got in the end didn’t taste like beef, unfortunately,” he said. “Something was lost in the process. If we could find out what that is by reviewing the process and fixing it so (cultured meat) tastes like real beef, then we can determine from which point it starts tasting like beef. That would allow us to quantify taste.
“In the future, we may be able to design the meat we consume, to create meat that perhaps tastes better than real meat. We don’t know if we can do that at this point, but we may be able to.”
Cultivated meat demand
The food industry is ready for the tech, even if not yet perfected. Japan’s Nissin Foods Group, the parent company to the leading Cup Noodle ramen brand, began supporting Takeuchi’s research in 2017.
The cultivated meat sector has raised nearly $2 billion in investments globally, according to data collected by the industry think tank, the Good Food Institute. That’s with Singapore currently the only country to have approved the tech for sale and consumption.
But other approvals are expected soon. Late last year, the U.S. granted GRAS status to Upside Foods for its cultivated chicken. It must now earn approval from the USDA before it can be sold in the U.S.
The steak announcement comes just days after U.K.-based BSF Enterprise, a biotech-focused investment company, said its subsidiary 3D Bio-Tissues produced the first cultivated steak in the U.K. made from pork cells.
Whole cuts are the holy grail for cultivated meat as well as plant-based meat. Toronto’s New School Foods recently debuted its whole-cut plant-based salmon.
“The next frontier of meat alternatives is whole cuts,” Chris Bryson, CEO and founder of New School Foods, said in a statement. He says whole cuts represent the majority of animal meat sales, a challenge with two heavily connected issues: “the quality of the meat alternatives in-market and the limited toolkit our industry uses to produce them,” he said.
“What’s generally available for consumers now are rubbery, ground, pre-cooked products that will not convince the average customer to change their lifelong habits.”