We have heard about laboratory meat for a number of years, generally in terms of something that may happen at some point in the indeterminate future. But at least for a couple of California companies, that future is now.
These high-tech companies are producing products – real meat and seafood – that are originally cultured from animal cells but are made without the actual animal.
San Francisco-based Eat Just makes chicken nuggets that have recently gained regulatory approval in Singapore and are now available to order at a downtown restaurant. San Diego’s BlueNalu creates cell-based seafood fillets including yellowtail, mahi-mahi, red snapper, and tuna.
The companies use stem cells obtained from actual animals and cultivate them in steel tanks with the same nutrients that living animals consume. The original cell donor is not sacrificed. The harvested cells multiply and are eventually shaped to form meat or fish that cooks, looks, and tastes just like its natural counterpart.
The “mouth feel” of conventional meat or fish can be mimicked by recreating the same proportions of muscle, fat, and connective tissue in the cell-based product. Eat Just says their product cooks, looks, and tastes like chicken because it is chicken. BlueNalu says their product has all the same characteristics as fish because it is fish.
These products have major environmental, safety, and ethical advantages. The big question is whether people will eat them. Is there an “ick factor” to overcome? Ultimately, the key thing is how they taste. If they pass muster on that score and cell-based meats and seafood are scaled up and accepted, we can have the nutritional and sensory advantages of meat proteins without the environmental, ethical and safety disadvantages.
Photo, posted February 1, 2012, courtesy of Andrea Parrish-Geyer via Flickr.