What makes a great meat substitute? Is it the perfect marriage of taste and texture, or the smell and juiciness that reminds people of the original deal? As subjective as that answer may be, one thing is for sure, the need for meat alternatives is pressing, and startups are getting better at recreating original meaty flavors with vegetarian or vegan ingredients thanks to 3D printing.
Not only are red and processed meats associated with health conditions, like heart disease, diabetes, and several types of cancer, but replacing them with other options, mainly plant-based, can avoid harming the environment.
Worldwide, meat consumption requires 30 million square kilometers of land to produce. That’s roughly three times the size of Europe and close to 26 percent of the earth’s terrestrial surface used for livestock grazing. Instead, plant-based meat uses 41% less land than fish farming, 77% less land than poultry, 82% less land than pig farming, 89% less than beef from dairy cows, and a whopping 98% less land than beef from beef herds. That is heavily convincing evidence that meat alternatives are a more efficient use of resources.
Successful startups like Impossible Foods and Beyond Burger have prioritized plant-based meats designed to look, cook, and satisfy like beef, spearheading a market that could grow to $23.4 billion by 2024. But newer startups are not just relying on other ingredients to recreate meat or traditional food fabrication. They are also driving the change with 3D printing and bioprinting technologies.
Evidently, the quest to automate and industrialize the process of 3D printing alternative meats is turning into the next evolution in this market. Here, we break down the seven trendsetters that could become the next heavy hitters in 3D printed plant-based meat alternatives.
Hong Kong technology startup Alt Farm has begun 3D printing food from plant proteins thanks to a patented nozzle design that can recreate specific textures in its products, including the appearance of meat. One of the first products created is a 3D printed plant-based A5 Waygu beef (the highest grade for Japan’s famous meat, which costs around $250 per pound). The company uses pea, soy, and algae protein to mimic the premium cuts’ unique taste and marbling and says China and Australia are key markets where it hopes to launch in 2023.
Created by three Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST) alumni, the startup began with a proprietary printer design to incorporate 3D food printing. Currently, Alt Farm reports that it can take up to four hours to print one Wagyu steak but believes more research and development will lead to scaling technologies and production capacity.
Emulating the taste, feel and look of artificial meat, Novameat is racing to 3D print plant-based whole cuts of beef, pork, and chicken. The Spanish startup employs biomimetic microextrusion technology and custom 3D printing machines to recreate the tissue structure of muscles.
Based on CEO and Founder Giuseppe Scionti’s decade-long tissue engineering research, the company’s microextrusion platform takes in vegetable fat (3%), water (72%), and plant protein sources (25%) to print a meat fiber matrix that looks and tastes like the real thing.
As part of its growth strategy, Novameat is collaborating with Disfrutar, a spin-off from the famous molecular gastronomy pioneering restaurant El Bulli, to create new “meat” dishes. Getting ready to launch its first products in Spanish restaurants this year, the startup is already planning to expand its retail partnerships in 2023.
Alternative plant-based seafood startup Plantish is raising millions to break into the foodservice industry and accelerate product development, including additive manufacturing (AM) technology used to produce alternative whole-cut fish filets at a low cost and massive scale.
Founded in mid-2021, Plantish’s mission is to save the oceans through its original fake fish products. Created using its own versatile, patent-pending 3D printing technology, Plantish’s trademarked salmon prototype can be prepared and cooked using the same methods as conventional salmon. The Israeli startup will be launching Plantish salmon in pop-up locations at the end of the year and officially introduce its product in nationwide restaurants by 2024.
One of the most publicized 3D printed artificial meat producers, Redefine Meat, has developed proprietary 3D printing technologies to create a new category of high-quality meat products made from plant-based ingredients that guarantee the flagship plant-based “New Meat” has the same flavor, texture, and versatility as animal meat. Having made considerable strides in developing technology to replace the cuts in the entire cow, in July 2021, the company launched its first range of five products to Israel’s demanding and vanguard alt-meat market.
From a juicy steak to a smoky brisket, Redefine’s meat can be tasted at restaurants in the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, and Israel, prepared by renowned chefs and ensuring animal-free, no GMOs or antibiotics will end up on your plate. With so many options to choose from, it’s hard to resist. Its products have also pulled in over $170 million in funding in just three years. The future looks bright for this plant-based meat producer as it expands operations into other European countries, where it hopes to reach thousands of restaurants by the end of 2022.
By now, it’s pretty clear that most 3D printed artificial meat businesses are emerging in Israel, so it’s no surprise that SavorEat would also be a local alternative. Recreating the unique experience, taste, and texture of meat without a single animal in sight, SavorEat uses a combination of a revolutionary chef robot, proprietary 3D printing technology, and unique non-GMO plant-based ingredients.
With SavorEat’s solutions, a patent plant-based formula is used to manufacture food that mimics real meat, with the possibility of expanding the solution to other foods, including seafood. SavorEat’s meat is manufactured automatically and autonomously by a “robot chef,” eliminating the chance of contamination through human touch. In addition, it personalizes or adapts the food to individual personal or health preferences. The customized aspect of the business is probably what sets it apart from the competition.
The fully-automated technology also opens up the possibility of ready-to-eat highly-customized meat at the push of a button at home or in entirely-digital restaurants without humans operating them. The startup is currently pursuing a B2B-only approach initially (targeting restaurant chains) and is looking to test its technology at one of Israel’s biggest burger chains, Burgus Burger Bar, with plans to commercialize it in the next two years.
Finish company Solar Foods has devised an entirely new way to make food. A spinout of the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and Lappeenranta-Lahti University of Technology (LUT University), Solar Foods produces a proprietary single-cell protein called Solein using just air and electricity. This revolutionary way to make a natural protein leads to food that is natural, can taste like anything, and unlike any other food, is not limited to the availability of land or the use of animals, agriculture, and aquaculture.
Solein is produced by placing living microbes in liquid and feeding them carbon dioxide and hydrogen bubbles, which have been released from water by means of electricity. Then these microbes create protein, which is dried to make the powder. Finally, using 3D printing, the company gives texture to the powder to make any food product, including meat substitutes.
Relying on a bioprocess that is ten times more efficient than photosynthesis and an estimated 100 to 300 times more sustainable than meat production, Solar Foods could have a powerful impact on the planet.
Previously known as Legendary Vish, Revo Foods is an Austrian-based developer of 3D printing technology designed to replicate the eating experience of seafood. Spinning out of a European Union-led research project, Revo was founded upon a 3D printing process initially developed for medicine. Later adapted for 3D printing plant proteins and binders into a realistic, structured form, the researchers behind the undertaking are now attempting to supply a novel option to the growing demand for plant-based seafood alternatives. Their 3D printed sustainable plant-based “fish,” primarily salmon and tuna products, have already been tested by hundreds of people.
The first products to hit the market in the summer of 2021 were smoked salmon strips and a creamy smoked salmon spread. However, the team is also focusing efforts on developing salmon and tuna sashimi, which is expected to be available in Austria before expanding to other European markets.
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