Overall, meat consumption rates are decreasing in the UK according to one Lancet study. This creates ample space for innovation around plant-based and cultivated meat alternatives that can successfully mimic the taste of traditional meat. One key to this, however, is fat which plays an essential role in the taste, mouthfeel and aroma of meat.
“Cultivated fat tastes and performs just as well as conventional animal fat, if not better. But the magic is where it comes from,” said Max Jamilly, co-founder of Hoxton Farms who will be speaking at Future Food-Tech on 22-23 September.
In recent years, the food industry has seen a raft of innovation and investment seeking to make scalable volumes of animal ingredients without the use of animals via several methods such as precision fermentation, plant molecular farming, and cell cultivation (also known as cell culturing).
London-based startup Hoxton Farms is operating in the latter category, “making real animal fat without the animals” by using stem cells grown inside a cultivator. It begins by taking a “harmless handful of stem cells” from an animal such as a cow or pig and placing them inside a freezer. There is then enough supply of these cells which means the animal is no longer needed.
Similar to the equipment used in a brewery, these cells are encouraged to multiply in a cultivator which then kickstarts the production process.
“Essentially, we trick the cells into thinking they're still inside an animal by providing all of the conditions and nutrients that they need to grow. The cells double and double until we have a really large number,” said Jamilly.
Hoxton Farms: This gives us an ‘exquisite’ level of control
Creating cultivated fat broadens the range of new cultivated meat products as well as existing meat alternatives already on supermarket shelves. Moreover, in the same way farmers change animal feed to alter the taste of conventional meat, cultivated meat can also be customised for taste, function and nutrition.
Different breeds of pig, for instance, and various parts of the pig produce fat with different nutritional profiles. This can be mirrored in cultivated fat by deriving cells from different parts of the animal.
“We [can] create tastes that nature hasn't invented yet, and to me as a foodie, that's incredibly cool. But we can also create aspects of functional performance that don't exist,” said Jamilly.
Hoxton Farms is also conducting researching to see whether it could ultimately tweak other aspects of fat functionality such as creating different melt points. Taste and flavour are continuously being refined in cultivated meat. However, there is room for improvement with cultivated fat which Jamilly feels is “such an exciting problem to work on.”
“Mouthfeel and smell, […] are such important parts of the experience of eating meat. Getting closer and closer to traditional animal fat, and in some cases even surpassing it. You know it's amazing, the power that cultivated fat has to improve meat alternatives.”
Better than conventional animal fat
Hoxton Farm’s cultivated fat ingredient will be sold to both meat alternative and cultivated meat companies. “They mix it with protein and make these awesome meat alternatives that look, cook and taste just as good as the real thing,” he added.
There is rising concern around the health and environmental impact of meat consumption. Animal agriculture is a significant cause of greenhouse gas emissions, use of habitable land and freshwater. An opportunity arises for meat cultivated and plant-based companies creating alternatives that can appeal to consumers over conventional animal meat.
Reducing meat consumption in favour of plant-based eating habits could lead to better environmental outcomes and lower the risk of chronic health disease. From an environmental and health perspective, cultivated fat “is incredibly pure” offering a clean, low carbon process which uses less habitable land and no antibiotics.
“It's free of contaminants, and it has none of the risk of bacterial or viral contamination that you might get from the supermarket. And of course, it has a very short and very well understood supply chain, which again is a very long way away from the traditional meat that that we're used to coming out of the intensive animal agriculture industry,” said Jamilly.