Cultured meat, the in vitro production of meat from isolated farm animal cells using tissue engineering techniques, is considered an alternative to meat, thus providing meat-like structures with similar eating experience and nutritional values to animal-derived meat. Aiming for a low environmental impact and enhanced animal welfare, this alternative not only offers an available protein source for the world’s growing population but also a more humane and sustainable one.
In the collaborative research by Prof. Machluf, Prof Fishman, and Prof. Davidovich-Pinhas from the Technion- Israel Institute of Technology, the researchers address some of the major technological challenges facing the cultured meat field i.e., the development of technological solutions for scalable cell expansion, cell scaffolding, and cell-to-meat processing. The researchers introduce a new approach for the development of diverse cultured meat products, based on edible microcarriers-derived microtissues in combination with oleogel-based fat substitute (Figure 1). In this approach, cell expansion is carried out using microcarriers, which act as scaffolds for cell attachment and proliferation, thus enabling a scalable process in bioreactors. Since the microcarriers were designed from edible materials, the entire cellularized microcarriers (microtissues) can be directly incorporated into the final cultured meat product without requiring any costly cell harvesting steps. These microtissues serve as building blocks to produce various cultured meat products through cell-to-meat processing approaches. In the present research, biological approaches such as enzymatic crosslinking and ECM deposition (Figure 2) were applied as well as physical approaches such as pressure and homogenization.
Another essential building block of cultured meat is a fat substitute, which contributes to its tenderness and juiciness as well as to the overall taste. To this end, an oleogel-based fat substitute was developed, incorporated with plant protein. The developed formulation exhibited comparable appearance, color, and hardness to beef fat with better nutritional values. Furthermore, due to its protein shell, the fat substitute could be easily combined with the protein-rich microtissues into a coherent structure.
Two types of cultured meat prototypes are introduced in the paper: layered cultured meat and burger-like cultured meat. The layered cultured meat prototype was produced based on microtissue aggregates that supported better stiffness and nutritional values, while the burger-like cultured meat utilized homogenized microtissues to imitate the marbling appearance of animal-derived meat.
Altogether, taking a thorough approach, this work establishes the technological basis for a unique cultured meat platform that may broaden the applicability of cultured meat products and accelerate their commercial production.