The evolution of lab-grown meat: Aleph Farms creates “first” cell-grown steak

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12 Dec 2018 --- Israeli firm Aleph Farms has created what it says is the first cell-grown minute steak, using its capabilities for growing different types of natural beef cells into a fully 3D structure similar to conventional meat. The cell-cultured meat space has been heating up recently, marked by a number of innovators launching cell-culture patties and meatballs. However, with its distinctive texture and complex shape, the steak remained an elusive target for innovation. According to the food-tech start-up, this breakthrough not only obtains the true texture and structure of beef muscle tissue steak, but also the flavor and shape, establishing a new benchmark in cell-cultured meat technology.

Cell-grown meat technology is gaining interest for its promise of production of slaughter-free meat, without the need for devoting vast tracts of land, water, feed and other resources to raise cattle. This comes at a time when the adverse impacts of climate change and the effects on agriculture and livestock sectors, is under the spotlight. Dietary changes are needed to slow the impact of climate change, warns a recent analysis from the University of Oxford and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.

Cell-grown meat is typically grown from a few cells of a living animal, extracted painlessly. These cells are nourished and grow to produce a complex matrix that replicates muscle tissue.

One of the barriers to grown meat production has been getting the various cell types to interact with each other to build a complete tissue structure as they would in the natural environment inside the animal. The challenge is to find the right nutrients and combination that would allow the multicellular matrix to grow together efficiently, creating a complete structure. 

Click to Enlarge“We’re shaping the future of the meat industry — literally,” says Didier Toubia, Co-Founder and CEO of Aleph Farms. 

“Making a patty or a sausage from cells cultured outside the animal is challenging enough, imagine how difficult it is to create a whole-muscle steak. At Aleph Farms, this is not science fiction. We’ve transformed the vision into reality by growing a steak under controlled conditions. The initial products are still relatively thin, but the technology we developed marks a true breakthrough and a great leap forward in producing a cell-grown steak.” 

Aleph Farms reports it overcame this obstacle thanks to a bio-engineering platform developed in collaboration with the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa.

Aleph Farms is implementing a combination of six unique technologies that allow it to drop the production costs of the meat, including innovative approaches related to an animal-free growth medium to nourish the cells, and bioreactors – the tanks in which the tissue grows. 

“Aleph Farms’ minute steak is thinly sliced and will cook in just a minute or so,” says Amir Ilan, chef of the restaurant Paris Texas in Ramat Gan, Israel. 

“For me, it is a great experience to eat meat that has the look and feel of beef but has been grown without antibiotics and causes no harm to animals or the environment. Aleph Farms meat has high culinary potential – it can be readily incorporated into top-shelf preparations or served in premium-casual restaurants, trendy cafes, bistros, or other eateries.”

Co-founded in 2017 by Israeli food-tech incubator The Kitchen and the Technion, Aleph Farms is supported by US and European venture capital firms. In July 2018, the company joined The RisingFoodStars — the European Institute of Technology (EIT) Food’s club of outstanding agrifood start-ups. 

Innovation drive
Aleph Farms’ steak innovation comes at a time when there is increasing consumer demand for protein that has less environmental impact and is less reliant on feed, land and water. 

In August last year, clean meat innovators Memphis Meat received groundbreaking support from investors, including billionaire entrepreneurs Sir Richard Branson and Bill Gates, as well as one of the world’s largest global agricultural companies, Cargill. Based in the San Francisco Bay Area, Memphis Meats is developing methods to produce meat directly from animal cells, without the need to breed or slaughter animals.

It released the world’s first clean meatball last February and the first-ever clean poultry in March 2017. It plans to bring real meat to the market that is marketed as significantly better for the environment, animals and public health.

The rise of cultured meat has been a key discussion area for several years, with pioneering research from the University of Maastricht leading to the creation of the spin-off company MosaMeat in 2015, two years after a US$250,000 artificial meat hamburger was presented to the world’s media to much hype, the technology has entered a new stage, with commercial viability moving significantly closer.

Last month, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reached an agreement on the process for approving cell cultured meat. The news could spell a step forward in bringing cell-cultured food to the mainstream consumer. The FDA and USDA announced that during the cell-harvest stage, they will oversee the production and labeling of food products derived from the cells of livestock and poultry. 

Although this news was welcomed by the founding innovator behind the world’s first lab-grown hamburger, Mark Post, MD, Ph.D., Professor of Physiology at Maastricht University, he said that it could still take up to a decade until we really see “clean” meat take shape.

The announcement of Aleph Farms' steak innovation shows how the drive to achieve the most realistic, cell-cultured meat is strong, especially in relation to taste and texture, as multiple players vie to get their juicy slice on the consumers’ plate.

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