- We tried cell-grown salmon, aka “cultured”, from food tech startup Wildtype. It looked and tasted real.
- It looks like fish grown in cells: it is fish flesh that is directly grown from fish cells.
- It’s “cultivated” meat, not fished, and the companies that make it think it’s the future of seafood.
As I wait to sit down with the founders of San Francisco-based food tech startup Wildtype, a member of the team greets me with a small plastic container in hand.
“Do you want to see it before our sushi chef prepares it for you?” ” he says. He hands me a pair of latex gloves and carefully opens the round plastic container to reveal Wildtype’s first innovation: a sushi-grade cut of salmon meat that has been “grown” or cultured from cells. No fish were caught or killed for doing so.
“You can pick it up,” he said. I do so, dumbfounded at how it looks, feels and feels how it looks like a piece of real salmon from a real fish. This almost indistinguishable tastes too much. This is because, according to ambitious cultured meat companies, it is real Meat. And they believe the future of fish is grown, not caught.
Only a decade ago, cultured meat – also known as cultured meat, cell-based meat, clean meat, lab meat, cell culture meat, and a host of other names – was a dream conjured up by a few scientists who have asked a question: do we need animals to make meat? Companies like Wildtype want to prove it isn’t.
Today, cultured meat is in its infancy; but with ambitious entrepreneurs at the helm, backed by hungry sustainability-focused venture capitalists and celebrities, they’re here to prove it’s not just moonlight. They are eager to solve the pervasive and problematic issues that accompany animal agriculture and aquaculture while finding new ways to feed our population, which currently hovers at 7.8 billion and is expected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050.
While there are cultured meat companies that focus on a range of cultured meats, from chicken to beef, some have gone for seafood – envisioning the same fish-on-the-plate experience, but a very different way. to achieve it.
“It’s not really as sci-fi as it sounds; our fish [meat] is not grown in a lab, ”Aryé Elfenbein, co-founder of Wildtype, told Insider. He said the process takes place in a food facility and looks more like a brewery than a science lab.
To get the final product, which is a sushi-grade piece of salmon, a small sample of cells is taken from a fish. Wildtype uses the same cells that came from a Pacific salmon three years ago, and once the initial cells are obtained, they can be used over and over again.
These cells are placed in a bioreactor, which looks like steel fermentation tanks used to brew beer or kombucha. The cells are given a mixture of sugar, fats, proteins, electrolytes, minerals, and other nutrients to help the cells grow.
The cells are then placed in a plant-based scaffold (essentially three-dimensional structures made of plant ingredients) that guide them to develop into salmon flesh. Although each company varies in its approach to growing meat, it is the basis of the process that is used.
“At the cellular level, the DNA of wild-type salmon is the same as the DNA of a conventional salmon,” Elfenbein said. What this translates to for a chef who prepares the fish, or a consumer who eats it, is a piece of fish with almost the same texture and nutritional composition as a traditional fish.
“It’s pretty comparable to conventional fish, with the same amount of fat, and also omega-3 fatty acids, and a little less protein,” Elfenbein said. But what is just as important is what is not in farmed fish; it is free from antibiotics, heavy metals, toxins, microplastics and other contaminants often found in traditional wild caught or farmed fish.
In addition to being a “cleaner” meat, according to the companies that produce it, farmed fish aims to meet the some very specific problems including overfishing, ocean pollution and climate change. While aquaculture farms – fish farms that may be located in marine waters or on land – have emerged in an attempt to solve some of these problems, they present their own unique and worrying problems of pollution runoff from farms, diseases in fish and intensive use of antibiotics.
Finless Foods, another cultivated seafood company that has raised $ 25 million to date, believes cultivated seafood is a critical part of solving ocean degradation.
“The more consumers who eat cell-grown and alternative seafood, the more likely we are to accomplish our mission of creating a future for seafood where the ocean thrives,” said at Insider Michael Selden, CEO and Co-Founder of Finless Foods.
Although cell-based meat in the United States is not yet on menus or on market shelves, commercial availability will be available soon. When that will be depends on how quickly the FDA is moving.
But one country already sells cultivated meat: Singapore. Good Meat, which is a division of leading plant-based Eat Just, Inc., has obtained the world’s first regulatory approval for a domestically grown meat product. Singapore obtained product approval from Good Meat in 2020, and she is currently selling her grown chicken product in select restaurants.
While the United States awaits FDA approval for cultured meat, those at the forefront of the industry have a clear vision of what they believe lies ahead.
“In the future, cell culture seafood will be found everywhere, from quick service restaurants and eateries, to grocery checkouts and other avenues where consumers currently buy seafood – and maybe new ones too, ”said Selden, adding that he believes seafood from cell culture will achieve price parity with traditional fish, be more affordable and can be produced anywhere in the world. with more consistency.
More importantly, Selden said, the increase in farmed fish and seafood will ease the pressure on our vulnerable ocean, already at crisis level.
While many studies found that consumers would try cultured meat – and people actually eat Good Meat’s cultured chicken in Singapore – the wide consumer acceptance of cell-based meat and seafood, as well as its ability to evolve with an affordable price, remains to be seen.
Josh Tetrick, co-founder and CEO of Eat Just, Inc. and cultured meat subsidiary Good Meat, asks people to look at history when they think of meat as we know it.
“You know, it seemed weird to imagine streaming your music instead of owning it,” says Tetrick. “It seemed strange that an electric car could be faster than the fastest gasoline car. It seemed strange that you wanted a lab-made diamond placed on your finger.
“And maybe it seems strange that not all the meat we eat will require the slaughter of animals. But weird things happen all the time.”