In an intimate cocktail bar in downtown San Francisco owned by celebrity chef Dominique Crenn on July 1, a select group of consumers became the first Americans to receive a taste of the future.
The meal itself was a simple one — chicken fried in a tempura batter, served with a burnt chili aioli, edible flowers, and greens — but this was no ordinary piece of chicken. To begin with, no animal had been slaughtered in the process.
Over the past eight years, the biotech company that produced the chicken, UPSIDE Foods, has been steadily honing the process of taking chicken cells, growing them into large sheets in steel bioreactors, and then forming them into shapes which can range from cutlets to nuggets.
Known as cell-cultured chicken, or cultivated meat, it has been sold in select restaurants in Singapore by another company, Good Meat, since the end of 2020, but the U.S. market had remained out of reach. Until last month, when both UPSIDE Foods and Good Meat received the green light from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and federal inspections required to sell meat and poultry in the U.S.
Amy Chen, chief operating officer at UPSIDE Foods, described the prospect of American consumers being able to finally taste the product as a “massive moment.”
“The progress we’ve made in the last few years has been remarkable on both the science side, and then also on the supply chain side,” says Chen. “Which isn’t so glamorous but for us to be able to scale to thousands, millions, billions of pounds of chicken, you need a supply chain that can support that.”
It’s these rapidly decreasing manufacturing costs, along with the prospect of meat produced humanely, with a lower carbon footprint than traditional livestock, that make me bullish about the future of cultivated meat.
And this is just one new type of future food I expect to become available within the next decade. Here are 10 products coming soon to your plates that are set to redefine our gastronomic experiences.
While UPSIDE Foods was launching its cultivated chicken, another such startup has been in the process of preparing for its own moment in the spotlight. Beef has long been described as the most environmentally damaging form of livestock, with studies finding that a single kilo of beef creates 70kg of greenhouse gas emissions.
Based in Rehovot, Israel, Aleph Farms is currently working with regulatory agencies in the Middle East and Asia to launch the world’s first cultivated steak. According to Neta Lavon, chief technology officer of Aleph Farms, this will be a hybrid product consisting of a mix of cultured beef and plant proteins.
“It could be healthier because we actually control the percentages of fat versus protein,” she says. “The first product that we release is going to be lean, low fat. We still get a very good sensorial experience with low fat, so why do we need to add it?”
High Vitamin D Tomatoes
Chronic vitamin D deficiency has been associated with everything from osteoporosis to seasonal depression and even an increased risk of Alzheimer’s. This deficiency is extremely common in certain parts of the world, with one observational study estimating that around 40% of Europeans are vitamin D deficient, and 13% are severely deficient.
But now plant scientists at the John Innes Center, Norwich in the UK have figured out a way of producing tomatoes that contain vitamin D by knocking out a particular gene using the gene editing technology CRISPR.
“Vitamin D is not made by plants, we make it ourselves and get it from animal sources,” says Catherine Martin, a plant sciences professor who led the project. “So this could help plants be a source of vitamin D for vegans and vegetarians, reducing the need for supplements.”
With the global population projected to grow to more than nine billion by 2050, being able to supply sufficient dietary protein to meet their needs is a major challenge. As a result, there has been increasing interest in non-animal derived protein sources, such as different forms of mycoprotein created by fermenting microscopic fungi.
Mycoprotein is increasingly being used as the base constituent in range of vegan meats and vegan-friendly deli products such as salami, pâté, and foie gras.
Dominic Farsi, a postdoctoral fellow at Teagasc in Cork, Ireland, says that mycoprotein has the advantages of being both high in protein and fiber, and low in fat, cholesterol, sodium, and sugar. “There are a lot of benefits of eating mycoprotein,” he says. “For example, we see improvements in markers of DNA damage in the gut, compared to red or processed meat.”
High protein chickpeas
Chickpeas are predicted to be an increasingly important source of protein as they are both highly affordable for consumers and naturally possess traits that make them more resilient to climate change, such as water efficiency and nitrogen fixation capacity.
California-based NuCicer, which Leaps recently invested in, has developed a range of chickpeas that contain 75% more protein, as well as opened up opportunities for other traits such as tolerance to heat and drought. By crossbreeding wild crops with cultivated chickpea varieties, they say they have expanded the genetic diversity by 40 times, making it possible to increase protein levels and environmental resilience.
Mustard greens are known for their nutritional benefits, being rich in vitamins A, C, K, and calcium. One study found that steam-cooked mustard greens reduce bile acid binding to a greater extent than raw vegetables, which may offer benefits for cholesterol. But not everyone can tolerate their pungent, bitter flavor, which is caused in part by an enzyme called myrosinase.
Pairwise, a North Carolina-based company that has received funding from Leaps, used CRISPR to dial down the genes coding for myrosinase, to make mustard greens more appealing. The product recently launched in select locations including Springfield, Mass., Minneapolis-St. Paul, and St. Louis, and is expected to ship to U.S. grocery stores later this year.
Startups are looking to drive the production of carbon-free chicken and eggs, sourced from farms where chickens are fed a soy-free diet, typically comprising of either insects or surplus food from grocery stores which has been upcycled into chicken feed.
The latter strategy attempts to offset any carbon impact from chicken farming by using food waste which would have otherwise been sent to a landfill, resulting in the generation of greenhouse gases.
Cultivated Pork Dumplings
In recent years, the pork supply chain has been weakened by the increasing realization that conventional pork farming drives viral spread and antibiotic resistance. With pig farming also having a high water footprint, cultivated pork could represent an attractive option in the future.
Fork and Good, a startup that has received funding from Leaps, recently opened the world’s first cultivated pork facility in Jersey City, using cell cultures to produce ground meat for use in pork dumplings. They hope to launch the product next year. I recently toured the facility and participated in a blind taste test of their cultivated pork beside conventional pork. It was truly uncanny how similar the two samples looked, smelled, and tasted.
Edible Food Packaging
Every single year, around eight to 10 million metric tons of plastic find their way into the ocean. At the present rate, it has been estimated that by 2050, plastic will outweigh all the fish in the sea.
In 2021, a research study highlighted that a large proportion of marine plastic pollution originates from food packaging, with single-use bags, plastic bottles, food containers and food wrappers comprising almost half of the man-made litter in the ocean.
One solution is to create more edible packaging constructed from natural ingredients. New York City-based Loliware has created edible straws out of seaweed, while Xampla, a spin-off from the University of Cambridge, UK, has developed stock cube wrappers made from pea protein which can dissolve in hot water and become part of the meal.
Cultivated Tuna, Crab, and Lobster
While cell cultivation has become best known as a new form of generating meat, it can also be used in seafood. This could provide a way of relieving the pressure on many commercial fish species, with data showing that a third of global fish stocks are overfished. Projects are currently underway to develop cell-cultivated lobster, shrimp, and crab meat.
According to Lou Cooperhouse, founder, president and CEO of San Diego-based BlueNalu, which is developing cultivated tuna, it could also ensure we are eating healthier seafood. “In seafood, we have a fragile, vulnerable supply chain,” he says. “But there’s also no predictability in seafood, and you have human health issues with potential for mercury (poisoning) or microplastics, or other pollutants.”
3D Printed Cake
In March, engineers at Columbia University released a detailed report focused on a slice of cake comprising of graham cracker paste, peanut butter, strawberry jam, Nutella, banana puree, cherry drizzle, and frosting.
Notably, it had been constructed entirely by a robot, one capable of using various cartridges of food paste and powder, and methodically squirting them out into a layered, edible dessert. The future vision is a food printer combined with a laser cooker which sits on a kitchen shelf and acts as a personal digital chef, capable of grilling meat or spitting out a cake.
But for the time being, symmetrical objects such as desserts are easiest for a machine to create. “Desserts are more forgiving,” says Hod Lipson, the Columbia University roboticist who runs the food printing lab. “The savory pastries, quiches and things like that are easier to work with than a cut of meat where you’re expecting a particular taste and shape.”
We are fortunate to live in an age when science and food are combining to deliver innovative new delicacies that may help sustain both our people and our planet. I’m curious to hear: which of these new products are you curious to try? Let me know in the comments.
Special thanks to David Cox for his additional research and reporting on this article.
The article was initially published on Forbes.com on July 20th, 2023