Tthere’s nothing quite like the sizzle of a steak hitting a hot cast iron pan. First comes the heady aroma of caramelized meat, followed by the smoke of charred fat. Juices spray and my mouth automatically starts to water in anticipation. Then my stomach twists with guilt.
As a climate reporter, I try to avoid beef. The global livestock industry is responsible for more than 14% of all human-caused greenhouse gas emissions in our atmosphere, almost as much combined road transport, aviation and shipping.
Industrial cattle farming is one of the world’s largest sources of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas that is 80 times more effective at trapping heat in the short term than C02. Cultivation of crops to feed the livestock industry leads to deforestation, which generates even greater emissions. To take our collective foot off the accelerator driving us toward certain climate doom, the World Resources Institute, an environmental research organization, assumes that residents of the Americas, Europe and Oceania limit red meat consumption to the equivalent of two burgers per week.
Israeli startup Fermi Aleph says it would be better to eat steak. His steak, that is, a rich slab of meat grown from stem cells, in a bioreactor, without cows or slaughter. Its “cultured meat,” which is the industry’s preferred term, isn’t yet available on the market—no cultured meat product has passed regulatory approval outside of Singapore—but the company invited me to try its signature cut at its Rehovot facility. half an hour south of Tel Aviv. There, company co-founder Didier Toubia promised me a taste of the future where a beautiful steak, cooked to perfection, is no longer served on a bed of methane emissions, with the loss of biodiversity in the Amazon rainforest as a side.
Read more: The cow that can feed the planet
Aleph Farms, like many of the more than 100 cultured meat and fish companies founded in the past decade, begins with stem cells grown in a bioreactor filled with nutrients. Each company has its own proprietary method of inducing these cells to differentiate into protein or fat, which continue to grow until they clump together into ground-meat-like formations, which can then be harvested and processed into burgers, sausages or breadcrumbs. bites. Aleph Farms doesn’t stop there. Instead, the company adds a few more steps to create a structured steak with the texture and flavor of filet mignon.
It would be easier to go for a ground product, Tubia says, but that doesn’t resonate in the same way as a prime cut of steak. “We need to connect emotionally with consumers if we want to drive adoption. Starting at the higher end is a way to position our product to make it more attractive.” Toubia cites Tesla as an analogy — aiming for a premium proposition by nailing the details. “They didn’t invent the electric vehicle; they were just the first to get it right.
Getting the right steak is one of the most difficult engineering tasks for cultured meat companies. Aleph Farms cracked the code by forcing cells from meat, fat and connective tissue to grow along a plant-based, almost microscopic scaffold that allows those cells to replicate the muscle fibers of conventionally grown meat. The combined tissues are then grown in a second nutrient broth for four weeks, at which point the “steak” is about the size of a smartphone and ready to grill.
The company is now working on a second iteration that uses a 3D bioprinter (using living cells instead of ink) to combine their structured fibers with fat cells to create a thick, marbled steak—the “holy grail,” according to Toubia. They’ve made a few so far, he says, but not enough for tastings outside the company.
Aleph’s focus on beef instead of chicken, which is easier to grow, and steak instead of ground meat, puts it behind other alternative protein companies when it comes to the race to market. GOOD Meat, a division of American food technology company Eat Just, Inc., is now selling its cultured chicken in Singapore. of Israel SuperMeat offers invitation-only tastings in its stylish bistro-lab, where diners tuck into crispy chicken burgers and hot dogs amid bioreactors busy brewing the next batch.
Read more: Cultured meat passes the taste test
In the next few months, the USDA is expected to rule on whether (and if so, how) cultured meats can be sold domestically. Industry observers say a clearance is likely. Once sales are allowed in the US, other countries will soon follow and companies around the world will begin bringing their cultured meat products to market in what is likely to be the biggest revolution in meat since the domestication of cattle. The pursuit of higher (ahem) stakes may hinder Aleph’s progress to market, but Toubia is ignoring the competition, confident that slow and steady progress wins out in the end. “First to market is not necessarily an advantage with new food categories. Our priority is impact for the planet and taste for consumer acceptance.”
He might be on to something. My thinly sliced steak, buttered and seasoned simply with salt and pepper, hits the hot grill of Aleph’s demo kitchen with an audible hiss. The aroma of fried meat wafts towards me as the in-house chef flips a credit card-sized portion onto my plate. The steak is disappointingly thin—I’ll have to go back another time for the thicker, 3D-printed version—but it’s as tender and juicy as the inside of a filet mignon. As I cut into it, the meat tears apart into strands more typical of brisket, but without any dryness. take a bite The taste is pure meat – a caramelized crust giving way to a savory richness. The square shape and thin cut give away the bioreactor origins of my steak, but with my eyes closed I wouldn’t know the difference. With my last bite, I realize that Tubia was wrong. No taste of the future. It tastes like steak. No guilt.
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