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Nova Meat is 3D printing steak made from peas and seaweed

Science and meat have come together in recent years like marshmallows and campfires, with multiple companies trying to engineer meat analogs that aren’t totally off-putting.

Some are growing muscle tissue in lab settings while others seek to simulate the flavor and texture of meat with plant-based proteins, fiber, and amino acids. So far, the already available plant-based alternatives seem to taste and feel more like the real, as long as we’re talking about ground meat. The lab-grown meat scores higher on texture when compared to a steak or chicken breast, but is currently prohibitively expensive to offer in stores and restaurants. That means there’s currently an underserved market of people that want a meat alternative with the fibrous texture of a cut of meat, and that’s where Giuseppe Scionti’s Nova Meat could carve up the competition.

Scionti has developed the meat-free food using protein powder from rice or peas and components of seaweed. Using CAD software Scionti designed a program to turn the ingredients into “meat”. The ingredients are inserted into a machine using a syringe and then into a long micro-filament to be shaped into a steak. The ‘straw-coloured paste’ is said to have a similar texture to genuine steaks. The machine can produce almost a quarter of a pound of raw vegetarian steak in less than a hour.

Scionti even holds a patent on the plant-based meat substitute, saying, “The patent is on the microstrain that imitates the natural structure of meat tissue.” The 3D printer was developed by Scionti at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain and he started Nova Meat last year to commercialize his tasty results. Scionti elaborated his goals, “We ate them with multiple journalists, and they thought that the plant-based prototypes possessed an animal meat-like texture.

The taste of the first prototypes is good, but it doesn’t mimic the taste of animal meat, yet. However, that does not worry me, because the technologies to imitate the taste of animal meat have already been developed in the last years, while the main challenge for me was to obtain the animal meat-like consistency and texture, which was not invented yet.” According to Scionti, the difficulty lies in rearranging the nanofibres of the plant proteins so they imitate the structure of animal proteins.

The success of companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Burger that have created convincing ground meat alternatives is ensured by America’s love of burgers, tacos, and chili as those foods use ground meat. But people that live in Mediterranean regions eat significantly less ground meat, where Scionti points out, “…in the Mediterranean area we usually prefer to eat a piece of actual fibrous meat, and not just products derived from minced meat.”

One of the driving causes for researchers like Scionti and others to find these non-meat options is sustainability. The desire for meat is rising globally, but the resources consumed and emissions produced by the raising of cattle and the transportation and storage of meat for that growing taste for meat are greater than the environment can handle. Sustainability of the product is important to Scionti, which is why he chose to work with the proteins and amino acids of readily available peas and rice.

“I used raw materials that don’t have a negative impact on the environment. I tried not to choose, for example, avocado or quinoa, as increasing the demand for foods that need to be imported would have a detrimental impact on the environment,” he remarked.

Cost is one of the biggest hurdles in the not-meat meat sector, and the Nova Meat is around $3 per 4 oz serving. With scaling up of production, that cost would drop dramatically. Scionti is already working with local chefs to dial in the flavor, and once they do, we can expect to see 3D printed steaks on the menu.

 

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