WATCH: What's it like to cook with cultivated meat?

By Flora Southey contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: cultivated meat

FoodNavigator travels to Paris to take its first bite of a cell-based chicken ingredient, asking the chef: ‘What’s it like to cook with cultivated meat?’

France’s first cultivated meat start-up, Vital Meat, wants to also be the first to submit a Novel Foods application to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).

Launched in late 2018 by co-founders Frederick Grimaud and Etienne Duthoit, the start-up has developed a cultivated chicken ingredient designed to ‘power up’ plant-based meat matrices.

Last month, FoodNavigator travelled to Paris to taste test the ingredient cooked by Michelin-starred chef Jean-Marie Baudic from the restaurant Le Ciel de Rennes. The conclusion? It tastes like chicken!

Chicken ingredient to ‘power up’ plant-based

This is perhaps unsurprising given that, as CEO Etienne Duthoit explained, it is ​chicken.

To produce the cultivated meat ingredient, Vital Meat extracts cells from a fertilised chicken. From there, the start-up ‘feeds’ the cells with growth media in a bioreactor where they multiply, before being harvested to make the final product.

“We don’t ever need to go back to the egg at all,” ​Duthoit explained. “We just keep this robust cell-line alive, like bakers do with their yeast.”

Vital Meat is not on a mission to completely disrupt traditional meat production. Rather, it wants cell-based meats to complement the conventional meat industry.

To do so, the start-up is targeting plant-based meat producers to create ‘hybrid’ meat analogues: meaning a blend of plant-based and cell cultivated meat ingredients.

By including Vital Meat’s offering in their plant-based products, food makers will achieve a ‘natural taste’, boost their products’ nutritional profile, and shorten ingredients lists, we were told.

“The ingredient has all the great nutritional values that come with [chicken],” ​the CEO continued, including all nine essential amino acids, Vitamin B12, and iron.

Cooking with cultivated meat

At the cooking demonstration hosted by Vital Meat in Paris, chef Baudic explained how he worked the ingredient into a plant-based dish – something not dissimilar to chicken ‘fritters’.

Cooking it slowly in a pan, Baudic recounted he was instantly hit with a smell reminiscent of poached chicken. But at this stage, due to a lack of fibre in the ingredient, the product remained ‘a little grainy’.

Cooking the cell-based ingredient slightly longer, to achieve the Maillard reaction, changed the ingredient again. “As soon as we achieve this roasted element, there is a grilled chicken flavour. But more like roast chicken skin – like a grandmother would make in the oven,” ​he told this publication.

And unlike many plant-based ingredients on the market, the flavour ‘lingers for a long time’. “That, I found very, very interesting.”

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Chef Jean-Marie Baudic worked Vital Meat's ingredient into something not dissimilar to chicken 'fritters'. Image source: Vital Meat

To give the ingredient texture, the chef adding cornstarch and cornflour.

Deep frying the mixture produced ‘little profiteroles’ that Baudic likened in flavour to roast chicken skin – but without the fat. “The ingredient doesn’t have the fatty side of chicken skin. We have the taste, we have something very textural, very crunchy, but with no fat.”

The Breton chef continued: “The roast chicken taste comes through, which is really very, very pleasant.”

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The start-up's cultivated chicken ingredient is designed to 'power up' plant-based matrices. Image source: Vital Meat

Next steps

From a price perspective, Vital Meat wants to be competitive ‘from the get-go’. Yes, the hybrid products will be sold as a ‘premium’, but no so as to be ‘out of touch’ with consumer price expectations.

The company has its heart set on commercialising in Europe, but as with other geographies, it will need to seek regulatory authorisation before doing so. It expects to have submitted a dossier within the next 18 months.

Elsewhere, Vital Meat is investigating authorisation regulations in Singapore and the US.

The start-up also revealed plans to diversify its animal range. “In the near future, we will offer cultivated turkey, white fish and pork,” ​we were told. “Stay tuned.” 

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