Israeli company Redefine Meat announces breakthrough in food technology as cultured meat innovators prepare for commercial launch
Israeli foodies will be able to take a bite out of the world’s first 3D-printed plant-based steak later this year thanks to a breakthrough in food technology.
Redefine Meat, an Israeli company based in Rehovot, has unveiled the “Alt-Steak,” which it says replicates the texture, flavor and appearance of real meat via the use of a patent-pending 3D printing technology.
“This is the world’s first 3D-printed steak that can really pass the test of what is a steak,” Eshchar Ben-Shitrit, CEO and co-founder of Redefine Meat, told The Media Line. “We’ve reached a milestone because we can print steaks on a large scale and the taste and texture are amazing.”
Creating a realistic meatless steak is widely considered to be the holy grail of the alternative meat industry – one that has long eluded food scientists. Plant-based ground meat varieties have been available on the market for several years but mimicking an actual cut of meat – with its distinctive combination of fat, muscle, sinew and mouthfeel – has proved to be a much greater challenge.
The groundbreaking technology used to create the Alt-Steak is entirely new to the food industry, Ben-Shitrit said.
“To make a meatless steak that resembles the muscle of an animal requires the use of a special 3D printer,” Ben-Shitrit explained. “Until now, nobody had this kind of printer and we developed it in the past two years.”
Working together with leading chefs, food technologists and butchers, Redefine Meat digitally mapped over 70 sensorial parameters to craft its meatless wonder. It then used a proprietary industrial-scale 3D food printer and multiple materials to print the steak, layer by layer. The steak itself is made out of a combination of soy and pea proteins, coconut fat and sunflower oil, along with natural colors and flavors.
“[It will be] in supermarkets in 2022 but already in restaurants in Israel this year, and in restaurants in Europe early next year,” Ben-Shitrit revealed, adding that initially, the Alt-Steak will be roughly the same price as traditional meat equivalents.
To make a meatless steak that resembles the muscle of an animal requires the use of a special 3D printer. Until now, nobody had this kind of printer and we developed it in the past two years.
Founded in 2018, Redefine Meat is also in the process of cementing partnerships to distribute its new product on a global scale. According to Ben-Shitrit, the company is working to meet the safety standards of each country it will launch in.
In the meantime and ahead of the Israeli launch, Redefine Meat is continually adjusting the formulations of the Alt-Steak in order to improve its texture and taste and get it as close to the real deal as possible.
Since Ben-Shitrit himself is vegetarian, he has been disqualified from being a formal taster at the company.
“We conducted a training [session] on how to taste meat and in it, you had to taste [real] meat,” he said. “We’re giving it to chefs and people from the meat industry that are really impressed.”
The Race for Slaughter-Free Meats
Redefine Meat is not the only company hoping to revolutionize the food industry using groundbreaking advances in 3D printing.
As plant-based steaks prepare to hit restaurants later this year, other Israeli companies are hoping to print steaks made out of real meat that is also slaughter-free.
Cultured meat, more commonly known as lab-grown meat, could soon become as everyday as going to the supermarket.
And Israel is at the forefront of technological innovation in this field.
“In terms of cell-based printed meat, yes, Israel absolutely is the leader,” Olivia Fox Cabane, an alternative protein expert who is also the co-founder of KindEarth.Tech, told The Media Line.
“There is work being done in the historical birthplace of cell-based meat, Wageningen University in the Netherlands,” Cabane added. “Overall, the three key centers for cell-based food in the world are the Netherlands (historic), Silicon Valley (money) and Israel (brains).”
MeaTech, a company founded in 2018 and based in the central Israeli town of Ness Ziona, announced earlier this month that it had raised NIS 20 million (nearly $6 million) from investors, including one of Israel’s largest supermarket chains, Rami Levy.
It also recently signed its first-ever commercial deal with Israeli meat importer Adom, which will enable it to market its products internationally.
“We do a lot more than printing,” Sharon Fima, CEO of MeaTech, told The Media Line. “We do everything from producing cells to creating the meat tissue itself.”
The cell cultures the company uses, Fima explained, are collected from cows’ umbilical cords and no livestock is harmed in the process.
MeaTech then uses a high-resolution 3D printer to arrange these cells according to sinew, muscle and fat. While they have not managed to produce full-scale steak just yet, they are hoping to be able to do so as early as next year.
“We are developing all the technology related to this process,” Fima said. “Next year, our goal is to print 100 grams of meat, which is already a steak.”
While MeaTech is expecting to print juicy steaks as early as next year, supermarkets remain a long-term objective. One of the main obstacles facing cell-based technology is that it is still quite costly and difficult to scale up.
“There’s another chain [of production] that needs to be realized,” Fima affirmed. “There are other parameters that need to be taken into account for getting into supermarkets, like scaling up and building factories. But we’re working on it.”
Still, Fima remains adamant that ratcheting up production will be possible with industrial printing machines, which he says should be able to produce thousands of pieces of meat each hour.
“To raise a cow takes between a year and two, depending on the size you want,” Fima noted. “But our entire process takes a couple of months, which is significantly simpler than raising livestock.”
A Revolution in Food Security?
The dawning of the 3D printed meat revolution could mark a radical departure in the way human beings eat and consume animals.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), some 302 million cattle, 69 billion chickens, and 1.5 billion pigs were slaughtered for their meat in 2018 alone. These figures are slated to rise exponentially in the coming decade as the world’s population continues to grow.
The environmental impact of the meat industry cannot be understated. The FAO estimates that global livestock is responsible for 14.5% of all anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Raising animals for meat also requires massive quantities of water to sustain on industrial levels. In fact, a recent study published in the Nature Sustainability journal showed that nearly one-third of the water used in the western United States goes to crops that feed cattle.
To top it all off, cultured meat is produced in a controlled environment and does not contain any viruses.
“If we look at the coronavirus, it reportedly came from a bat that was sick,” Fima said. “With us, that wouldn’t happen. The meat is much cleaner. With the beef you eat today, you don’t really know if the cow was sick and what it was fed.”
Others agree that the pandemic has proven that the food industry needs to undergo massive changes.
“The pandemic has shined the spotlight on the importance of incorporating innovations that can promise food security and that are not dependent on climate change and that minimize the risk for food-borne illnesses,” Yoav Reisler, external relations manager at Aleph Farms, told The Media Line. “It proves the advantages of cultivated meat on industrial farming and the necessity to transition to a more sustainable food system.”
Founded in 2017 together with the Strauss Group and Technion University, Aleph Farms is an Israeli firm specializing in lab-grown meat. In the fall of 2019, it became the first company to produce meat on the International Space Station, in collaboration with a Russian firm called 3D Bioprinting Solutions.
Like MeaTech, Aleph Farms collects cells from cattle and grows them in controlled conditions. Within three weeks, Reisler said, Aleph Farms is able to transform the cells into an edible product. It is currently aiming for a limited commercial launch by the end of 2022 or early 2023.
Although the costs of producing cultured meat on a large scale are prohibitive at the moment, he expects that to change in the coming years as automation increases.
“There’s so much room in the market; this is a $1-trillion industry and the industry is just growing,” Reisler noted. “The demand for meat is expected to double in the next 20 years. The food system doesn’t have the capacity to feed 10 billion people by 2050 so there must be a solution.”