From Beyond Meat in Los Angeles to Impossible Foods in Silicon Valley, California could well be called the land of fake meat. Halfway across the globe, however, another hotbed of food tech innovation is emerging.
For such a small country, Israel has a disproportionately high number of alternative meat startups – over 50, according to Nir Goldstein, the managing director of the Good Food Institute Israel. This should come as no surprise: Israel’s startup ecosystem frequently ranks among the best in the world. But there is ample support for alt-meat innovation in particular. “The market is so hot that we don’t know of any alt-protein startup that hasn’t been able to raise seed funding,” says Goldstein. In addition, the Israeli government has funded two tech incubators, The Kitchen and Fresh Start, to provide companies with equity financing, business mentoring and more.
Most startups on the scene today are creating plant-based meat analogues – what Goldstein dubs “Meat 2.0”. For instance, Rilbite is developing a minced-meat alternative made from eight grains and vegetables, including rice and cranberries. Then there’s More Foods, which produces faux beef strips using a high-protein yeast blend. “Because we use different proteins than those traditionally used for meat alternatives, we are able to create a novel taste and texture, and focus on products that resemble whole-muscle cuts,” says founder Leonardo Marcovitz.
In a bid to create even more realistic forms of fake meat, some companies are turning to 3D printing – as Redefine Meat has done with its Alt-Steak product. To emulate the texture and structure of the real McCoy – tendons and all – the company has digitally mapped over 70 parameters of beef, including juiciness, fat distribution and mouthfeel. These are then replicated, layer by layer, using industrial-scale 3D food printers and plant-based ingredients.
“Our technology helps address the current lack of variety on the alt-meat scene today. Using the same 3D printer, we can print different meat types and cuts by simply changing the digital file,” says CEO Eshchar Ben-Shitrit. The process also allows for customisation: “For example, if consumer feedback data suggests the meat is too fatty, we can use computational methods to restructure the distribution of fat.”
In the same vein, SavorEat produces 3D-printed burger patties via a robot chef fitted out with ingredient cartridges. The robot prints a patty and then grills it according to the customer’s preference – all within six minutes. “With 3D printing, we can create heterogenous textures – fat, muscle, connective tissues – and combine them in a way that makes the patty look and feel like the real thing,” explains CEO Racheli Vizman.
Cell-based or cultured meat is – quite literally – a different beast. It involves growing actual meat from cell cultures taken from a live animal, which means it is certainly not vegan. However, it is cruelty-free and vastly reduces the resources required to produce meat. “Once the cells are obtained, they are fed with nutrients that enable them to multiply – within a fraction of the time required to grow conventional meat, and without antibiotics,” says Didier Toubia, whose company Aleph Farms has developed a thin-cut beef steak using this technology.
SuperMeat is applying the same process to chicken. According to CEO Ido Savir, the benefits of cellular agriculture are numerous. “There is no need to defeather, debone and clean the chicken, which reduces labour costs and the risk of zoonotic diseases like Covid-19,” he says. “Also, manufacturing takes place in a closed, controlled system independent of external forces like weather.”
While innovation in this field is flourishing, many Jews in Israel and elsewhere might be wondering whether cell-based meats would be considered kosher. “At the moment, it’s impossible [for the Jewish community] to reach a decision, as production methods have not been fully formulated or disclosed,” says rabbi Joel Kenigsberg. “The most critical question is the source of the cells: were they derived from a kosher species? And was the animal alive when the cells were taken, or had it undergone ritual slaughter? Now is the time to find production methods that will meet kosher requirements.”
But Kenigsberg recognises the benefits that cell-based meat can bring to the table. “The broader question we always face is: should we embrace this new technology?” he asks. “If cell-based meat can live up to its promise of sustainably feeding the global population – of being good for both humanity and planet – then I think the answer will be a resounding yes.”
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