Created using Redefine Meat’s patent-pending 3D meat printing technology, the company says its Alt-Steak products deliver the texture, flavour and appearance of beef steak. This is a significant upgrade to many of the other alternative meat products already on the market – and CEO Eshchar Ben-Shitrit expects the technology to have a disruptive impact.
“3D printing is certainly a disruptive force across all industries, and alt meat is no different,” he told FoodNavigator.
"To enable mass adoption, we knew that creating an alternative meat product that was both high in quality and nutritional composition would require new technologies and production processes never seen before in the food industry. Today’s announcement marks the start of a new era in alternative meat – the Alt-Steak era – driven by production processes that will accelerate the development of a wide range of alt-meat whole muscle products and create a sustainable alternative to raising and eating animals.”
Beyond fast prototyping to ‘advanced manufacturing’
In sectors where 3D printing already plays a role, Ben-Shitrit noted that it is ‘first and foremost’ used for fast prototyping. But Redefine Meat has moved beyond this level of innovation to create a product that only 3D printing can deliver.
“In the early days we used our unique approach to 3D printing meat to test how changes in the composition achieved by digital accuracy and control improve the texture, colour, flavour and cooking behaviour of our Alt-Meat products. We still can iterate, improve and learn faster than any company that doesn't have our digital capabilities. However, the holy grail of 3D, is creating a product that no other technology can. This turns rapid prototyping into advanced manufacturing and ultimately that's the real benefit of using 3D printing for steaks.”
Digital technology and 3D printing combine to produce products with a level of complexity that echoes actual meat, the Israeli food innovator continued. “Unlike all existing alt meat products, real meat is an extremely complicated product, where much of the sensory experience comes from the matrix. Meat is not just proteins, fats or water as much as it isn't just cells. Beef especially is a product that has been ‘built’ for years by the cow. Our printer is the only technology we know of that can replace the role of the ‘cow’ in making meat.”
Plant-based steak that looks, cooks and tastes like beef
Redefine Meat worked with ‘leading’ butchers, chefs and food technologists – as well as leveraging ‘close collaboration’ with flavours expert Givaudan – to digitally map more than 70 sensorial parameters into its Alt Steak product. These include the texture, juiciness, fat distribution and mouthfeel of ‘premium beef cuts’.
Givaudan said the collaboration is part of its expanding 'global innovation ecosystem'. The tie-up with Redefine is the latest in a series of partnerships for Givaudan which focus on the development of alternative protein products. These include the Plant Meat Matters consortium, a global initiative, led by Wageningen University & Research (WUR), which is working to produce plant substitutes for beef and potentially other meat types such as pork or chicken, in the future.
"Collaborating with an industry-leader like Givaudan has led to the creation of an Alt-Steak product that is not only healthy and sustainable, but also offers the satisfying flavors, textures and aromas of eating actual meat," Ben-Shitrit said.
Layer by layer, Redefine Meat's proprietary industrial-scale 3D food printers create the Alt-Steak using the company's alt muscle, alt fat, and alt blood plant-based formulations.
“Our product is an extremely complicated food, where proteins, fats, natural colours and flavours and more are arranged in the precise manner to make them perform like the equivalent elements in a cow's muscle. The main advantage is, besides the fact that we don't need a cow, that we can also do it faster than the cow's biology does,” Ben-Shitrit explained.
By printing with multiple materials, Redefine Meat says it can create sustainable, high-protein, no-cholesterol steaks that look, cook, and taste like beef.
From high-end restaurants to mass market
The plant-based steaks will be launched later this year in ‘select’ high-end restaurants. This up-market testing ground will help to prove the concept and refine the product ahead of a launch into the mass market.
Ben-Shitrit stressed the importance of producing culinary products in order to win over consumers, for many of whom meat eating is a social and cultural norm.
“Meat is not a single product but a vast range of hundreds of different products, culinary applications and traditions. When working on a new kind of meat, we are up against an industry that evolved together with humanity across tens of thousands of years. On top of cracking the technological complexities of meat, we need to deal with, solve and embrace cultural elements related to meat,” he told this publication.
For this reason, winning over chefs as early adopters will be an important milestone. “We believe that chefs are the driving force of culinary innovation and so with them we can learn, adopt and help adapt our meat in the most efficient and thoughtful way. In our case we also add to that butchers, who in [many] cases come from a lineage of meat expertise 4-5 generations back. Ultimately, at the end of the day, we need consumers to like our products and that's something you can only achieve if you constantly test and improve.”
While the initial launch might be limited to the menus of high-end restaurants, the ultimate aim is to take a slice of the revenue generated by the colossal global meat sector.
To achieve that, mass distribution and on-point pricing will be needed. And Redefine Meat is confident it can deliver.
“There is no reason for plant-based meat to be more expensive than meat from animals. It's more efficient, less energy and resource intensive, and the process emits much less waste. However, the meat industry has been around for at least hundreds of years in its current form and, in addition, it's a multi-trillion-dollar industry.”
Scale will be an important lever to drive down cost, Ben-Shitrit predicted – but quality will remain king. “Once our new and emerging industry reaches a tenth of the size of the meat industry, alt meat will be much more affordable than meat. As a launch strategy however, we don't think that the main selling point should be price. Alt meat must be extremely good and only later cheap. If it is cheap but not extremely good, then nobody will care about it.”
Redefine Meat plans to ramp up production of its 3D meat printers and alt-meat formulations ahead of market distribution in 2021.
“We plan to sell the 3D printing technology directly to meat distributors in 2021, and to supermarkets in the future.”