Editorial Feature

Future Applications of 3D Printing Meat

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The widespread adoption of 3D printing marks the dawn of a new era of manufacturing. Yet, what may not immediately spring to mind at the mention of this novel technology is its application within our food chain. This, however, is exactly the opportunity Novameat founder Giuseppe Scionti recognized, and, with the recent unveiling of the company’s prototype steak, there is every promise that this elaborate venture could revolutionize the core of our food industry.

The Novameat steak

Like most great inventions, the concept of a 3D printed steak did not simply come to Scionti in one revolutionary brainwave, but was more a mixture of prior expertise, innovative thinking and a small dash of chance. His prior position as researcher and professor of bioengineering at the UPC University of Barcelona entailed the use of a bioprinter to fabricate artificial human organs and subsequently instigated his proposal that this same technology is employed in gastronomy.

Various meat alternatives have already been introduced to the market, primarily plant and soy based. Although these have been successful, they often compromise on either the taste or texture sought after to replace livestock products.

The promise of Novameat is that this compromise will no longer be necessary. The essential amino acids are provided by vegan ingredients, including rice, peas and seaweed, creating a paste acting as the “ink” to be 3D printed. It is this 3D printing production method which then enables the complex, micro-structured forms to be replicated and hence achieves the remarkable fibrous consistency. In just 30 minutes, this can produce a 100g steak.

Impact of 3D printing meat

Apart from the obvious ethical reasons behind seeking a meat alternative, there are numerous environmental and social benefits that make this such a crucial achievement in the pursuit of sustainable living.  

Perhaps most pressingly is the astonishing consumption of resources accompanying the meat industry. In particular, beef is a key culprit of water usage at 15415 liters for each kilo. What’s more, in the past 50 years, 90% of deforestation of the Amazon rainforest has been due to clearing of land for cattle grazing. With the global population continuing to increase, this is not a sustainable means of feeding the appetites of 7.7 billion and counting. In contrast, 1kg rice - one of the key ingredients of the Novameat steak – equates to approximately 5000 liters of water expenditure.

Furthermore, it has been proposed that this novel meat substitute could help combat famine. The goal has been set to develop the capability to customize nutrition, such that meat with greater protein and vitamin content can be manufactured for those in pressing need. This then leads to the question as to whether this could see widespread introduction into all healthcare, aiding with the enormous strain imposed on hospitals and care homes to provide the necessary food to patients.

As a key example, anemia affects 24.8% of the global population and occurs due to deficient iron intake, the richest source of which is provided by red meat. But why stop there? Athletes in pursuit of the optimum diet would certainly also be enthusiastic customers at the prospect of customized nutrition.

It is therefore clear that there is a hunger for a sustainable alternative to meat, the matter in hand is whether 3D printed meat can truly progress from laboratory to kitchen.

Future adoption of 3D meat

For now, the grand unveiling of Novameat at the London Food Tech Week is simply to whet our appetite for what is to come. Scionti stated that they aim to have a consumer-ready, plant-based steak by 2020. Achieving this relies on their primary focus of further work; the refinement of ingredients.

The company is working in close conjunction with chefs to attain the desired taste and nutrition since overcoming the first texture hurdle. Scionti also assured that organic and biodiverse sources were of great importance in the selection process.

Following from this, it is hoped that by 2022 the product will be hitting the shelves of all major UK stores, as well as appearing on the menus of select restaurants. The latter will be key to the promotion of the new product, through both the support of renowned chefs and demonstration of the ease with which 3D printed meat may become an integral part of our food industry – from home cooking to fine dining.

The current prototype has already acquired appraisal from various renowned Spanish chefs, most notably in relation to the remarkable texture. During his appearance at the London Food Tech Week, Scionti told the audience “we could also provide personalized food for astronauts for space travels very soon”, providing an even more specific clientele for which Novameat could cater for.

However, such widespread adoption presents the enormous challenge of upscaling the current equipment in terms of scale and efficiency to meet consumption demand. What is encouraging, is that the Novameat steak can be sterilized and subsequently packaged to be kept as stock in stores. This is a small but essential step towards the revolution of our food industry, which Scionti and his team have embarked upon.

References and Further Reading

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