Earlier this year, we published an article about Memphis Meats, about how cell-based meat could provide a sustainable alternative to eating vast amounts of red meat. It's National Vegetarian Week 2019, and although Memphis Meats uses animal cells to create its products, it's a positive step for the planet and animals as meat can be grown from these cells without having to harm animals in the process. It is made from the same cells as animals, but is created in a lab, so flexitarians trying to cut down can rest more easily.
As consumers become more ethically minded, people are considering the impact their food choices have on the planet.
Memphis Meats is addressing this by developing cell-based meat, which they claim is more environmentally friendly. We caught up with Maria Macedo, director of brand and creative, and formulations scientist Morgan Rease to find out more about the process, the taste and the benefits…
What’s the process behind creating Memphis Meats products?
Maria: All meat we eat today, from a ribeye steak to ground turkey, has a common fundamental unit: cells. They are the building blocks for meat as well as the starting point of our production. What we’re doing here at Memphis Meats is making meat though a method what we call “essential nutrition” and it’s inspired by nature’s basic principles of producing meat: start with one cell, give it the right nutrients and simply allow it to grow and multiply.
We call this process “essential nutrition” because it eliminates unnecessary steps that can be harmful to nature and to consumers, such as raising entire animals to only use certain parts of it. It keeps only the fundamental steps needed to get to high-quality, safe and delicious meat.
Our process is actually pretty simple: We start by identifying and selecting high quality livestock cells that can self-renew and grow to become pure meat. We then give them the best and purest micronutrients – food from sugars, amino acids and other familiar sources – so they can grow and develop into meat. Our cells follow their natural processes and form muscle, fat and connective tissue, just like any other meat would and they do so in a vessel called a “cultivator.” Cultivators provide a clean, controlled environment that is perfect for the cells, where they get the space and structure they need to grow until they’re ready to be harvested. And the final step is the harvest: once meat is ready, we simply harvest it from the cultivator, cook it, and enjoy it.
Do the products taste the same as traditional meat? If so, how do you ensure this?
Maria: Absolutely. It not only tastes, but looks and smells like meat too. The main reason behind it is that, unlike meat alternatives that are made from other products to recreate the “meat” experience, our food is real meat – it’s made of the same ingredients as meat and it shares the same original unit: animal cells.
We’ve done hundreds of tastings, and the feedback is always the same: our products are meat, and devoted carnivores immediately recognise them as such.
Morgan: When you eat a piece of chicken that we’ve made, your brain immediately recognises it as such. Most of the people who try our products are devoted meat eaters, and we’ve had several tasters say that our products are some of the best meat they’ve eaten.
Our current prototypes are genuinely delicious, and they will only improve. We are driven to guarantee our products aren’t just good meat, but really amazing meat. We take product quality very seriously and we are always striving to push the needle on deliciousness. Our goal is to satisfy even the most critical of carnivores.
Is Memphis Meats meat better for your health?
Maria: Something really interesting about how our meat is made, and that not a lot of people think about, is that since our meat is produced in a clean and safe facility, our process has the potential to significantly reduce the risk of harmful bacterial contamination, as well as animal disease epidemics like mad cow disease or avian flu. We also expect our production to not require antibiotics, which can help counter the threat of antibiotic-resistant superbugs.
We are laser-focused on producing delicious meat that not only is irresistible to our consumers but that improves their lives and positively impacts the food system.
And is it better for the environment? Does this mean that ethically-minded consumers can feel better about their decision in choosing Memphis Meat over traditional meat products?
Maria: Probably the biggest advantage of our approach is that it unlocks our potential to scale up food production using only a fraction of resources and space, and this carries huge positive implications for the environment. Just for reference initial independent research suggests that, at scale, our products could require up to 90 per cent less land and water than conventionally-produced meat, and to emit up to 90 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions.
The environmental benefit is surely appealing for ethical eaters, but product quality and should make our meat irresistible to all meat lovers out there.
So when can we expect to see your products on the supermarket shelves?
Maria: Our team is working really hard to get out products to market and although we are not announcing a launch date at this time, we’re on an accelerated timeline and we expect to move faster than our original estimates.