Rael-Science: Researcher Develops a Plant-based Meat Substitute

Akanimo Sampson

Akanimo Sampson

While it might sound like something out of a science-fiction movie, Giuseppe Scionti , the researcher behind Nova Meat, has according to a Rael-Science post, managed to figure out a way of printing meat using vegetable proteins and a 3D printer.

In an interview with Business Insider, the researcher explained that for over ten years, the specialist in biomedicine and tissue engineering has been working on bioprinting various synthetic tissues: from artificial corneas and skin to artificial ears.  

Now, as a compromise somewhere between insect proteins, lab-made meat, and total abstinence from meat of any form, the researcher has developed a new form of synthetic meat with 3D printing.

It was only last November that Scionti launched his company, Nova Meat. Though it’s still in the early prototype stages, the Italian researcher’s synthetic fillet imitates the texture of beef and he also makes fake chicken.

The texture is precisely the factor that’s most difficult to perfect with regards to synthetic meat: “It has a fibrous texture,” explained the entrepreneur, “not like that of a hamburger.”

This isn’t the first time, however, that an attempt has been made at producing an alternative to meat that is less damaging to animals and the environment. Meat can be grown in labs is made using animal-cell cultures from fetal bovine serum, which requires slaughtering a cow and its embryo.

Other varieties of synthetic meat like Impossible Burger are also made with vegetable proteins, but as Scionti said: “They may taste like meat but they have the texture of hamburgers.”

According to Scionti, the difficulty lies in rearranging the nanofibres of the plant proteins so they imitate the structure of animal proteins.

Scionti makes the fillets from a reddish paste he introduces to his 3D printer — through a nozzle attached to the end of the printer, he sculpts a piece of synthetic meat.

At the moment, printing 100 grams of vegetable meat costs just under $3, but as the process heads towards industrialisation and commercialisation, the price will decrease as volume produced increases.

Better still, through obtaining amino acids from pea and rice protein, the fillet also has the nutritional properties of a beef fillet.

“I used raw materials that don’t have a negative impact on the environment,” said Scionti, “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.”

The only thing that currently seems to be lacking with the synthetic meat is that it’s missing the flavour of real meat — and to fix that, Scionti has already begun looking at partnering up with chefs.

So far, he’s presented his alternative meat to well-known chefs such as Ferran Adriá and Can Roca.

Last August, the Italian also gained approval for a patent on his product: “The patent is on the microstrain that imitates the natural structure of meat tissue,” he said.

The front of The Vegetarian Butcher, a shop that sells vegetable-based products designed to mimic the taste of real meat. The Vegetarian Butcher

There are already alternatives to meat made in labs — such as Memphis Meat, Meuse Meat or Just Meat — or with vegetable proteins, like Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat.

According to Scionti, those made with lab-grown meat have made significant advances in the appearance of meat while those made with vegetable proteins have more nuanced flavors — and the market is only growing bigger.

Even Unilever has made developments in the field by collaborating with The Vegetarian Butcher, a company that sells vegetable-based products designed to mimic the taste of real meat.

“It’s a good time to be getting into this market,” Scionti said.

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