Enjoying a juicy steak from something that you haven’t actually killed yet might sound like one of the least ethical ways to enjoy an already unethical meal, but it could be about to become a major feature of the foodieverse.
Thankfully for sensitive animal enthusiasts, this new style of steak is not actually anywhere near as macabre as it sounds. Rather than allowing butchers to hack off bits from a frantically mooing cow, the meat is actually an example of the latest development in lab grown food tech. Unveiled last week by Ashdod-based start-up Aleph Farms, it could signal the start of a worldwide move towards conscientiously sourced protein in a way that we haven’t seen before.
With growing concerns over the social, physical and environmental impact of meat consumption, changing the way that humanity interacts with and eats domesticated animals is a major item on the scientific agenda. Several companies have already ventured beyond popularising plant-based meat substitutes, and have instead decided to explore the potential of cellular cloning and lab-based cultures. As Israeli scientists at Aleph are coming close to proving, the results can be spectacular.
To the untrained eye, the lab grown meat looks more like a piece of premium jerky than something that came out of a test tube. When cooked in a pan with butter and garlic, it transforms into what seems to be a piece of well-done bavette or hanger steak. However, it’s origin is a lot less bloodthirsty than either of those two options.
To make the steak, cells are extracted from a living, happy test subject, before being transported to a lab. There, they are nourished and grown in order to replicate muscle tissue, until the culture has reached a suitable size. At this point, the “meat” is removed from the lab and transferred to the kitchen for prep.
It’s clear that the team behind the project are pleased with their results. Speaking to the Guardian, Aleph Farms co-founder and chief executive Didier Toubia revealed that “It’s close and it tastes good, but we have a bit more work to make sure the taste is 100% similar to conventional meat. But, when you cook it, you really can smell the same smell of meat cooking.” This is a promising start for a product that has the potential to revolutionise our food.
Another major plus of the Aleph prototype is the price. Though this is not the first time that lab grown meat has made headlines, previous iterations have been extortionately expensive, with famous examples like Maastricht University’s artificial hamburger costing a whopping $250,000. Adelph’s steak, by contrast, costs a mere $50 per strip.
Despite the promising advances, Adelph acknowledge that their food is not quite ready for public consumption. Toubia estimates that the meat is between three and four years away from hitting the shelves, as kinks such as thickness and flavour still need to be fully ironed out. Nonetheless, this breakthrough could have a huge impact in the years to come. As Toubia says, “If you want to have a real impact on the environment, we have to make sure we solve the issue of production, and we grow meat in a more efficient, sustainable way, with no animal welfare issues and no antibiotics.” This fake steak could signal the start of something significant for all of us.