A company in Spain is preparing to roll out a brand new food product that may appeal to vegans and might actually help solve world hunger.
Novameat is working on a pasty mixture made up of healthy vegetables such as rice, peas, and seaweed that could be processed by a 3D printer…into a steak!
Italian bioengineer Giuseppe Scionti, who founded Novameat, explained how he got the idea to marry emerging technology with nutritional science at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia:
“I developed the first 3D-printed plant-based beefsteak while I was working as a postdoc researcher in tissue engineering, and assistant professor at the UPC university in Barcelona. I was lucky … because this city is a great hub for both 3D printing companies and world-renowned restaurants.”
Scionti, who earned his Ph.D. in biomedicine, wanted to create a meatless beefsteak from agricultural crops that are plentiful and whose cultivation would not harm the ecology. Like other vegetarians and vegans, the inventor sees these three gains from switching from animal proteins to those derived from plants:
- Ethically sound – no animals were harmed in the making of this savory chop.
- A healthier option – Unlike fatty meats, vegetables contain no cholesterol.
- Good for the Earth – Plant-based agriculture produces fewer greenhouse gases with no leveling of forested areas.
Most 3D printing uses a technique called filament deposition modeling (FDM) or fused filament fabrication. Digital Trends offered this easy-to-understand explanation of how FDM printers manufacture 3-dimensional objects:
“Functionally speaking, your average FDM machine works a lot like a hot glue gun that’s being operated by a robot (interestingly enough, that’s actually how FDM was invented back in the 1980s!). Solid material goes in one end, gets pushed through a hot nozzle, melts, and is deposited in thin layers. This happens over and over until a three-dimensional object emerges.”
Pretty neat! Unlike a hot glue gun, FDM printers build solid objects from a “thermoplastic filament” – a stringy plastic substance that softens melts and becomes “liquid-like” when the heat of a specific calibration is applied to it. Only a couple degrees of cooling will cause the flowing substance to return to its solid state.
For the Novameat raw beefsteak, the thermoplastic filament is the all-vegetable paste Scionti cooked up. The company claims that their 3D printer system can crank out one quarter-pound of simulated meat every hour.
How much does all this cost? A mere 4 euros – about US$4.50 – per hour of 3D food printing.
The nutritionally-minded developers at Novameat are focusing not only on replicating the chewy qualities of meat but on creating an all-veggie product that delivers comparable levels of protein, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals.
We all want to save the people of our beautiful world from starvation, but the reality is that a meatless product like this one needs to taste good in order to win folks’ hearts and stomachs. So how does a Novameat steak taste?
Scionti had this problem in mind when he began to look for “a plant-based meat substitute with the same texture, consistency, and integrity of the animal pieces of fibrous meat.”
The Spanish vegetarian foodie noted that other companies have tried to simulate the look, feel, and taste of real beef – but failed. In Scionti’s words:
“In fact, although some companies have already managed well to reproduce the taste of animal meat — [such as] the Impossible Burger and the Beyond Burger — before my technology was patented there was no existing method able to replicate simultaneously the texture, the microscopic morphology, and the macroscopic appearance of a fibrous piece of meat such as a beefsteak, a chicken breast, or a tuna steak with this level of complexity.”
Another distinct advantage of Novameat is that it can be sterilized, does not need to be refrigerated, and can be packaged for lengthy transportation.
The ease of handling and storing vegetable-based meats means that people who live far from the beaten track could supplement their starvation-level diets with products like these. In addition, the idea of injecting these foods with medications that treat local diseases is under discussion.
Before anyone gets too excited about a fake steak made from vegetables that is both eco-friendly and tastes delicious, Novameat estimates that their product won’t be available for another three to five years. Good things take time, after all.
Scionti explained the obstacles the researchers face while searching for all the right ingredients in all the right combinations to build the better steak:
“At the moment, our products can mimic the texture and a simplified appearance of beefsteaks and chicken breast meats, but achieving products that are able to simultaneously mimic the texture, the appearance, the taste and the nutritional properties of specific pieces of fibrous meat is not trivial. That will be the focus of Novameat in the first place. Then it will be fundamental to scale up the production, to bring it to the supermarkets and to the rural areas of the planet, where meat substitutes are most needed.”
The race is on to come up with a meatless meat substitute that will have commercial appeal. Another new startup company called Jet-Eat unveiled its version of 3D-printed meat “with a proprietary plant-based formulation to create products such as vegan steak, stew, and roasts, and is currently collaborating with local chefs and butchers to bring its innovative products to market.”
Jet-Eat’s CEO, Eshchar Ben-Shitrit, acknowledged the difficulty in mimicking the look and feel of true meat:
“Existing plant-based options can imitate ground beef, for example, but beef steak is currently impossible. In the long term, we plan to be in retail, having our industrial printers producing a wide range of fresh meat products with just-in-time production, almost zero-waste, minor environmental impact, and awesome consumer experience.”
Jet-Eat has expanded their vision to include technologies that don’t exist today, specifically, using clean meat (laboratory-grown from a small sample of animal cells).
It is very encouraging that scientists around the world realize the benefits of manufacturing vegetable-based meats with 3D printing. Thank goodness they also understand that vegan food needs to taste as much like the real thing as possible.