From lab to plate: a six-course banquet featuring no-kill dim sum and steak frites

<span>Mosa Meat aims to launch its cultivated beef burgers in Singapore, pending regulatory approval.</span><span>Photograph: Mosa Meat</span>
Mosa Meat aims to launch its cultivated beef burgers in Singapore, pending regulatory approval.Photograph: Mosa Meat

Whether roasted, grilled, fried or stewed, the combination of fat, umami and texture in a premium cut of meat is difficult to recreate. With sales of plant-based meat stagnating, the hunt for cruelty-free, sustainable and meaty-tasting alternatives continues. Enter lab-grown meat. Fermented in tanks, using cells from long-dead donors, it promises a more climate- and animal-friendly form of meat for the carnivore with a conscience.

Last week, researchers announced that they had created “beef-cultured rice”, which, while not exactly replicating the taste of a pan-fried steak, offers a “pleasant and novel flavour experience” that could improve emergency food supplies or provide rations for astronauts and the military. At the opposite end of the spectrum, gourmet restaurants in the US and Singapore are already serving up cultured chicken to adventurous diners, while regulators in Singapore, Switzerland and Israel are considering whether to approve further products.

Assuming companies obtain the necessary approvals and can sufficiently scale up production, no-kill meat could become a mainstay on restaurant menus in the coming years. But what might such a meal look like? Biologists and chefs share their ideas.

Amuse bouche: pan-seared foie gras

With its rich, buttery flavour, and delicate texture, foie gras is the quintessential French delicacy – for those who can stomach the production methods. For duck- and goose-friendly foodies, the Paris-based startup Gourmey may offer an alternative: foie gras produced from cells derived from white Pekin duck eggs.

Grown within a closed vessel and then harvested, “our culinary experts employ a proprietary method to craft them into a product that is rich and buttery, with a delicate texture in the mouth,” said Nicolas Morin-Forest, Gourmey’s co-founder and CEO.

Pending the outcome of continuing dialogues with food-safety authorities in several markets, particularly the US and Singapore, the company initially hopes to launch its product on the fine-dining scene. “Imagining its debut on restaurant menus we could foresee a celebration of its unique flavour profile: a rich blend of cereal and roasted top notes with a subtle sweetness, hinted at by caramel undertones, all encased in a velvety texture that dissolves delightfully in the mouth,” Forest said.

“This opens up avenues for classic preparations with modern twists, such as the revered tournedos Rossini, where our cultivated foie gras can be pan-fried to perfection, accompanied by beef tournedos, truffle slices, and a rich madeira sauce.”

Appetiser: duo of pork and chicken dim sum

Various companies are creating cell-cultivated chicken and pork pieces, yet scaling up production remains a big challenge. This is why “blended” products – those combining cultivated meat and plant-based proteins – are a likely first step for many.

Rather than growing muscle tissue, the London-based Hoxton Farms is focusing its efforts on cultivating pork fat, by growing pig stem cells inside large bioreactors. This fat could be added to pea or soy protein to create meatier-tasting meat alternatives. “What fat does is it creates the sensory experience that goes with eating meat; fat is where the flavour is,” said Hoxton Farms co-founder Ed Steele.

His no-kill menu would feature xiao long bao soup dumplings – paper thin wrappers traditionally filled with pork and a pocket of fragrant soup – although this version would incorporate pork fat into the dumpling wrappers, the broth, and a plant-based filling, to create a “flavour explosion”.

Blending smaller amounts of cultured meat with other ingredients is an alternative approach. “Cultivated meat will still have fibres, so I think wrapping it around things, like a roulade, is a really cool way to envision what cultivated meat could look like on an innovative, high-end menu,” said the US-based chef entrepreneur Philip Saneski.

His menu would feature garlic-rice-stuffed chicken, wrapped in crispy yuba (tofu skin) to imitate the crunch of real chicken skin.

First course: pulpa a la Gallega

Creating more sustainable seafood is another priority. This includes octopus meat, which many avoid on ethical grounds because of these creatures’ exceptional intelligence. The Portuguese company Cell4Food is developing a product that could replace the chopped octopus in pulpa a la Gallega. “Octopus meat doesn’t have the same textural elements that a [beef] steak does, so might be easier to make,” said Dr Stella Child, a research and grants manager at The Good Food Institute, which works to advance alternative proteins.

Related: Lab-grown ‘beef rice’ could offer more sustainable protein source, say creators

Other companies are working on cultivated trout, sea bass, eel and sushi-grade salmon. One challenge is that the flesh of different fish species have quite different textures and composition, said Child. Also, because so much medical research has been done using mammalian cells, “we know a lot more about growing animal cells than we do fish cells”.

Main course: steak tartare or petit steak with frites

A decade ago, the world’s first lab-grown beef burger was sizzled and scoffed before an audience of salivating journalists. Since then, the scientists who created it have founded a company – Mosa Meat – and are on the brink of launching cultivated beef burgers to consumers in Singapore, pending regulatory approval.

“One of the comments from people that tasted [early versions] was that it was a bit dry, so since then we’ve added fat, which is the tastemaker and creates the right mouthfeel. We have also created a raw variation, which is a steak tartare,” said Tim van de Rijdt, Mosa Meat’s chief marketing officer.

Other companies are focusing on cultivating smaller cuts of steak. For instance, the Israel-based Aleph Farms hopes to launch a “petit steak” – a several millimetre-thick cut, cultivated from the cells of a black Angus cow – in Singapore and Israel in the near future. This could be served alongside frites in a modern iteration of the French classic steak frites.

However, because of the product’s qualities – “it cooks easily and it is always juicy” – the steak could also be used to create dishes that are difficult to prepare using conventional cuts. “We believe we can use it to revive traditional dishes, which are less and less common, just because it takes time and a lot of effort to prepare them, said the CEO of Aleph Farms, Didier Toubia. “For instance, we could make pulled-beef dishes with a very short cooking time.”

Cheese course: lo-cow camembert

If there’s one thing vegans report missing more than anything, it is gooey, creamy cheese. While vegan alternatives abound, it is difficult to recreate the flavours and textures of dairy cheeses, because they contain different proteins. The Paris-based company Standing Ovation is one of several working to tackle this, by producing the main proteins in milk – caesins – through precision fermentation, where microbial hosts are used as “cell factories” to churn out animal proteins.

“Caesins represent 80% of milk proteins. The stretching that you have in mozzarella is caesins; the air bubbles in ice-cream are the result of caesins; the creamy part of camembert is caesins that have been digested by [microbes in] the ferment. If you want a [thick] yoghurt with high levels of protein, you need caesins because they are the protein that is able to curdle. For all dairy applications, caesins bring the functionality that consumers are looking for,” said Standing Ovation’s co-founder and managing director, Romain Chayot.

So far, the company has successfully manufactured three out of the four caesins found in cow’s milk, and has used them to make camembert-like soft cheeses, Philadelphia-like cream cheeses and cheddar-like hard cheeses, yoghurt, coffee-creamer and sour cream. It is also developing caesins found in buffalo, sheep and goat’s milk, and partnering with dairy companies including Bel Group (which makes Babybel). The company hopes to obtain regulatory approval for its cow-based caesins in the US in 2025, and Europe the year after.

Dessert: baked alaska

Ah, the sweet nostalgia of cool and creamy ice-cream wrapped in a bite of warm meringue. Requiring egg whites and cream, an animal-free alternative isn’t obvious, but some of the key proteins in them are also now being produced through precision fermentation.

Onego Bio in Finland is scaling up production of ovalbumin, the main protein in egg white, inside fungal cells, which has “the same exact nutritional profile and taste” as ovalbumin from chicken eggs. “More importantly, it has all the functional properties that make eggs so special: it foams, coagulates, emulsifies, and binds other ingredients,” said Maija Itkonen, the company’s CEO.

It is also partnering with the US biotechnology company Perfect Day, which is producing another milk protein – whey – through precision fermentation. This animal-free whey is already being incorporated into ice-cream that’s available for consumption in the US.