In 2018 an Israeli startup, Aleph Farms, announced its success in growing a steak in the lab using cells extracted from a living cow. This year, the country has another meat-cultivating company breaking news. This time, it’s SuperMeat handing out lab-grown chicken meat for sampling.
A cultivated chicken burger made by SuperMeat is being served at a ‘test restaurant’ in Israel called The Chicken. It could be a revolutionary new way of how people eat poultry. The lab-grown chicken is grown in containers behind a glass screen. This way, people can witness how the sandwich they’re about to eat was made from scratch… down to the cells.
It’s a typical sight to have a restaurant put its kitchen on display, but this is the world’s first restaurant to put its laboratory on display instead. Ido Savir, the CEO of the restaurant’s parent company, SuperMeat, joked:
The meat was made on the other side of the glass. That’s true local production of meat.
As weird as this may sound, it’s no different than using a freezer to make ice cubes instead of leaving it up to nature, says the CEO. He said:
We’re not interfering. We’re just doing it in a different way. Ice made in a freezer is not interfering with God – it’s using technology to do it more efficiently.
Plus, if lab-grown meat like this becomes mainstream, it could be excellent for the planet. Cultured meats emit an estimated 4% of the greenhouse gases and 1% of the land as traditionally farmed meats. Studies have shown that we have to eat less meat to cut global emissions.
At the moment, The Chicken is giving out cultured lab-grown chicken burgers for free so people can test for themselves how delicious and on point the texture is. The Guardian’s correspondent Oliver Holmes went there to try one and said you’d never know the difference; it tastes just like the real thing.
The publication reported:
The breaded patty is deep-fried in oil before being placed on a sweet brioche bun, flavored by wasabi and chili mayonnaise, with a side of sweet potato chips. Similar to many chicken burgers, it breaks and flakes when pulled apart and is extremely tender.
Tomer Halevy, the head chef who has a Ph.D. in genetics, creates the meat and prepares the burgers. Holmes saw him chopping the lettuce, red onions, and avocado, then proceeding to batter the raw chicken strips before dipping it in breadcrumbs. Everything seemed as usual. Then Halevy goes on to explain:
This burger takes between two to three days to grow. The muscle cells naturally contract when they are grown, making the fibers that result in the flakes of the burger that you would expect.
…which is a strange thing to hear, of course. But knowing that no chickens need to be slaughtered should help with the mental disorientation.
But how does it work, you may be wondering? Cells are taken from a live chicken via a simple biopsy or from an egg. Then they are cultured in the laboratory – meaning they are put in a dish with feed (water, amino acids, sugar, proteins, and vitamin bath) to grow. The cells develop and divide thanks to the nutrients just as they do in a growing animal. The process creates a potentially endless supply of muscle and fat tissue from just a dish of cells.
If you harvest half the meat on one day, you will get the same amount the next day.
Like other patties, the burger is not just meat but heavily supplemented – about half of it is plant-based proteins, with added seasonings. SuperMeat plans to eventually distribute patties and nuggets to companies that distribute to grocery stores.
It may be a year or more before that happens, and the price isn’t yet at the point for mass consumption, but it’s close. Savir says the production of one chicken burger is $35. The first-ever consumed lab-grown burger (made only seven years ago) cost about $300,400 (£225,000).
Recently, Singapore became the first state to approve the sale of cultured meat. A company called Eat Just will soon be selling chicken nuggets there at a yet-unnamed restaurant. So, the industry has already begun to spread its wings!