The Israeli company Aleph Farms has shared with the world the first prototype of a beef steak that has been grown in a lab, harming no animal in the process.
Although the world’s first lab-grown burger was tasted in 2013, growing a steak had so far remained a challenge.
“We are the first company that has succeeded growing different cells together in a structure similar to a steak,” Didier Toubia, co-founder and CEO of Aleph Farms, told me. “Others grow cells and then mix them with different ingredients to make burgers, nuggets or sausage, which is processed food and not the whole piece of meat.”
The small pieces of steak, just half a centimeter thick, are created by seeding the different types of cells that make up muscle into a scaffold. Over time, the cells grow and replicate the internal structure of meat, though the company still has to tweak the process to increase the thickness, scale up production and reduce the cost.
“We have to make sure that the product can be produced in large quantities and low cost, while keeping the level of quality. It’s a complex balance,” Toubia said.
With the first taste of its cultured steak, Aleph Farms has shown it is able to recreate the complex tissue structure of meat. Toubia estimates that the company still needs at least 2 years of development until they have a commercial product ready. Adding scaling up the production and regulatory approval, the first steak could be launched 3-4 years from now.
Toubia estimates that first product will be more expensive than conventional beef when launched, but expects to see the price drop to the same level within 3 years from the launch.
The pricing is part of the reason while Aleph Farms is working on cultured beef and not pork or poultry. “Beef has the highest selling price, so it will be easier to reach break even,” explained Toubia.
The other reason is that beef is the type of meat that causes more environmental issues. “Producing beef in the lab can reduce the consumption of water and the usage of land between 96 and 98%,” said Toubia. “Growing meat will allow to feed more people.”
The company is looking into launching the product in Europe first, as part of the EIT Food European consortium that funds innovation in the food sector. To do so, it will have to comply with EU regulations, which establish a 1.5-year process to get approval for the launch of a cultured meat product.
Other companies in Europe working on cultured meat, though focusing in processed meat products, include Mosa Meat (founded by the world’s pioneer in cultured meat) and Meatable working on beef, and Higher Steaks working on pork.
Cover image via Aleph Farms