Lion burger? Tiger tacos? Meet the cell cultured start-up working in exotic meats

By Katy Askew

- Last updated on GMT

Primeval Foods is a start-up that believes exotic cellular meats could disrupt the trillion dollar global meat market / Pic: Primeval Foods
Primeval Foods is a start-up that believes exotic cellular meats could disrupt the trillion dollar global meat market / Pic: Primeval Foods

Related tags cellular agriculture cultivated meat

Cultivated meat is often heralded as an emerging alternative to intensive animal agriculture, promising new ways to produce slaughter-free beef, pork or poultry proteins. But one cellular ag start-up is working from a different playbook. Primeval Foods is developing lab-grown exotic meats that, it says, can deliver novel food experiences and health benefits.

Created by the London-based venture studio, Ace Ventures, Primeval Foods operates in a high-profile area of food tech: cellular agriculture.

The excitement around cellular agriculture largely stems from the benefits and disruptive potential on offer. Innovators in the field can create products from cell cultures as opposed to whole plants or animals.

Proponents believe that, when compared to conventional animal agriculture, the production of animal tissue in bioreactors will prove a safe and more sustainable source of protein. Cellular agriculture, it is hoped, will offer a means to meet the rising appetite of the growing global population, projected to reach 9bn people by 2050, without exhausting finite natural resources and raising carbon emission levels.

Cultivated meat companies most frequently focus on the largest meat categories – beef, chicken and pork. However, Primeval Foods has stepped away from the norm and instead is concentrating its efforts on more exotic fair.

Meat market ‘wide-open’ for disruption from exotic cell ag

“We are currently working on: the Siberian tiger, leopard, black panther, Bengal tiger, white lion, lion, and zebra. We sourced cells of the big cats from captive animals, and for the zebra, we sourced it from an exotic meat market,”​ Yilmaz Bora, Managing Partner of Ace Ventures, told FoodNavigator.

Most of us aren’t used to seeing zebra on the menu – and big cats are unlikely to have made the dinner table in the majority of our homes. So why has Primeval set its sights on such a unique niche?

Primeval points to the fact that no other animal has been domesticated since the agricultural revolution. This, the company argued, means the trillion-dollar meat market is ‘wide open’ for start-ups who are willing to ‘double down on innovative ideas’.

Importantly, Primeval stressed, as a novel production method, cultivated meat allows companies to produce food from species without slaughtering animals – opening up the ‘previously unavailable’ cultivated meat market.

“The reason we consume traditional species like beef and chicken today is not that they are the tastiest, healthiest, or most nutritious ones. It's because they are the ones easiest to domesticate. Since cultivated meat allowed us to go beyond domesticated species, now we can explore the tastiest, healthiest, and most nutritious [options]. And based on demographics and taste preferences, we will see new signature foods and dishes from each cuisine/country; for example, Giraffe meat might be the new flagship of Italian delicatessen, or Bengal Tiger might be the new signature ingredient in Chinese cuisine,”​ Bora predicted.

Lion burger by Primeval Foods
Lion burger / Pic: Primeval Foods

Could exotic meat deliver health outcomes?

Bora believes that the history of animal husbandry and the development of domesticated species means that wild animals could deliver health benefits not associated with the consumption of mainstream meats.

“Cultivated exotic meat consumption might lead humanity to a new evolution for our brain and gut microbiome because of the unique protein and amino acid profile - without the downside such as cholesterol and saturated fats.

“We are envisioning a future where we consume cultivated jaguar meat to have better sleep and mood, or cultivated elephant meat to increase our cognitive performance, or paediatrics might warn parents to feed their child with cultivated lion meat at least two times a week to have a better bone and muscle development. This is just tip of the iceberg.”

Launching in high-end restaurants

Primeval currently plans to launch its commercial offering with exotic meat burger patties. Pending regulatory approvals, the lion, tiger of zebra dishes will first be offered to Michelin-starred restaurants.

Certainly, exotic meats have already made the menu of fine-dining establishments like London’s ARCHIPELAGO Restaurant, which serves up dishes like crocodile, camel and kangaroo; Chakalaka, where diners can order off a menu including kudu (a kind of antelope) carpaccio, zebra and ostrich; and Vivat Bacchus, whose South African dishes include crocodile and springbok.

“People are constantly seeking to discover new foods, new restaurants, new culinary experiences, but the traditional species have reached their limitation on meeting this demand,”​ said Bora. “It has to go beyond the current beef, chicken, and pork dishes, and it has to come without the expense of nature.”

Zebra sushi from Primeval Foods
Zebra sushi / Pic: Primeval Foods

Primeval is planning tastings in London and New York. But while the initial launch might focus on high-end culinary trend-setters, ultimately Primeval Foods believes it will expand on a larger scale and even sees potential to hit the supermarket shelves.

“The goal is to become globally mainstream, one way or another. We want to be in every corner of the world, at least with a product and/or species. We start with restaurants because chefs have the ability to create amazing foods and culinary experiences. We believe that will accelerate consumer acceptance,”​ Bora told us.

Of course, regulation remains a significant hurdle for the cellular meat sector in Europe, the US and UK. To date, the only food safety authority to greenlight the sale of cultivated meat globally remains Singapore. But Bora believes this is a technology that has come of age.

“I believe all countries are welcoming cultivated meat as an idea, but nobody wants to head the regulation (except Singapore, of course). In general, what we see in novel technologies is that when a ‘leader’ country (economically, culturally, and legally) ‘heads’ the regulation, others will follow them by adapting the framework. I think we will see that when the US regulates the industry,”​ he predicted.

In terms of next steps, Primeval Foods is currently working on the development of cell lines for new species.

Because Ace Ventures is a venture studio – an investment vehicle that creates start-ups, executes its own ideas, and builds businesses from the ground up rather than investing in existing start-ups – Primeval Foods is not currently looking for additional funding or financial backers.

“In this model, Ace Ventures' human and capital resources are used to fund and operate [Primeval Foods]. We want to see the regulation, [then] take action about building an extra in-house team, or establishing a partnership within the industry.”

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