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3D Printed Meat — and “Meat”

3D Printed Meat — and “Meat”

meat in the form of ribeye

Two Israeli companies have just made near-simultaneous announcements of their respective alternatives to traditional slaughtered meat. Though philosophically different — Redefine Meat is vegan, while Aleph Farms uses lab-grown cow muscle cells — both aim to reimagine humanity’s future dependence on meat. There are lots of reasons to try both tacks, from lessening our impact on the environment to taking a moral stand on factory farming. And, both companies use everyone’s favourite accessible future techs to build their products: 3D printing!
 
Though Redefine Meat’s “Alt-Meat” is made without animal products, it’s existentially terrifying in a different way. It’s printed from components the company has trademarked as “Alt-Muscle,” “Alt-Fat,” and “Alt-Blood,” and while they assure eaters those are all “made from sustainable, highly nutritious, and commonly available ingredients such as plant-based proteins, fats, and natural colors and flavors,” (link: https://www.redefinemeat.com/faq) they don’t say precisely what those are. (Soy? Gluten? Sawdust?) Plus, they result in a scarily accurate steak — which fulfils the company’s aim of providing an easy switch for active meat eaters, but would give current veg folks pause.
 
Meanwhile, Aleph Farm’s process is, despite the science-speak, a bit easier to wrap your head around:
 
“To create the meat, researchers used 3D bioprinting and real cow cells. The technology allows them to print living cells that can grow and interact in a vascular-like system helping nutrients move and resembling real steak. […]

Aleph Farms’ process uses a fraction of the resources required for raising an entire animal for meat, without antibiotics and without the use of fetal bovine serum (FBS). Part of the cost savings comes from using natural pluripotent cells that are cultivated in large quantities. Pluripotent cells, such as stem cells, can be used to make all of the other cell types in an organism.
 
‘The natural pluripotent cells can multiply efficiently and can mature into the cell types that make up meat, like muscle and fat cells. It is enough for us to harvest the cells once, and the procedure we use is non-invasive,’ [CEO Didier] Toubia explained.”
 
At DFC, we’re also invested in this tension, because we occupy an inclusive space with our sauce lines: Sure, you can use them on traditional meats, but what other mind-blowing options are out there? I’d be very interested to try both companies’ options, if and when they get international regulatory approval. I have no idea which would even be my favourite… And that’s a delicious kind of uncertainty!

A Bright Idea from Food Waste

A student innovator from the Philippines has turned a major problem in his country — food crops destroyed by climate change — into a surprising concept for sustainable power generation. Carvey Ehren Maigue has recently won the very first James Dyson Sustainability Award for AuREUS System Technology: Clear plastic panels, which can be made into windows or building cladding, that use embedded luminescent particles derived from food to harvest UV light and convert it to electricity. The invention is part-solar-panel, and part-aurora-borealis — Maigue was inspired by that natural phenomenon, which features sensitive particles which absorb energy and emit it as visible light.
 
I often find, with sustainable innovations, that they’re only sustainable in one way, or address only one part of a many-sided issue (paper drinking straws, anyone?) But, by incorporating waste crops as raw material for his solar panels, Maigue effectively doubles AuREUS’s beneficial impact on the environment! As the inventor himself puts it:
 
“We need to utilise our resources more and create systems that don’t deplete our current resources. […] With AuREUS, we upcycle the crops of the farmers that were hit by natural disasters, such as typhoons, which also happen to be an effect of climate change. By doing this, we can be both future-looking, and solve the problems that we are currently experiencing now.”
 
The bioluminescent particles are collected from the damaged crops by pulverizing them and straining the resultant slurry. The particles are then suspended in clear resin, which is then formed into approximately three-foot by two-foot panels. Maigue envisions future panels that are curved, or come in a variety of colours — no more “solar panels are too ugly” NIMBYism here! Eventually, he hopes his R&D yields threads and fabrics based on this technology. While I’d love a solar-panel sweater, made from recycled food no less, I’d be more than thrilled to start with some swanky windows! Isn’t the future bright — in more ways than one?

Wiiiiine Iiiiiiin Spaaaaaace (wine in space)

wine in space

For only the second time in human history, one of our planet’s most interesting beverages has slipped the surly bonds of Earth — for science! For only the second time in human history, one of our planet’s most interesting beverages has slipped the surly bonds of Earth — for science! Space Cargo Unlimited, a startup that supplies pressurized vehicles for space research, has recently taken delivery of a package that has spent over a year on the International Space Station: 12 bottles of Bordeaux wine and 360 vine canes. Part of the company’s MissionWise program (which investigates how agricultural products react in space as a trial for the pressures of climate change), the vino and vines will head to the University of Bordeaux’s Institute of Vine and Wine Science (ISVV). There, they will be checked for any changes their trip has caused — and the wines (six bottles each of Cab Sauv and Merlot) will later undergo a private tasting! From Decanter:

“Properties in the wines and vines will also be compared against control samples that stayed behind on earth.

‘We’re going to look at everything that has evolved,’ [Space Cargo Unlimited’s CEO Nicolas] Gaume said.

‘We’ll do a whole genome sequencing of the plants, to provide a clear view of all the DNA changes that could have happened on the stay on the ISS.’ […]

Gaume described the absence of gravity, or microgravity, as the ‘ultimate stress’. He said researchers involved in the project were interested in learning more about how the vine canes may have adapted or evolved in a relatively short time to be resilient to the stressful conditions.”
 
The previous oenological mission was STS-51-G, a flight of the space shuttle Discovery in June 1985, on which a French payload specialist brought a bottle of Château Lynch Bages (again, a Bordeaux), more as a publicity stunt for the region than anything else. This time around, the full analysis that ISVV promises will hopefully teach us something key about wine, space, and climate change, all at once. Thirsty work, indeed!and 360 vine canes. Part of the company’s MissionWise program (which investigates how agricultural products react in space as a trial for the pressures of climate change), the vino and vines will head to the University of Bordeaux’s Institute of Vine and Wine Science (ISVV). There, they will be checked for any changes their trip has caused — and the wines (six bottles each of Cab Sauv and Merlot) will later undergo a private tasting! From Decanter:

“Properties in the wines and vines will also be compared against control samples that stayed behind on earth.

‘We’re going to look at everything that has evolved,’ [Space Cargo Unlimited’s CEO Nicolas] Gaume said.

‘We’ll do a whole genome sequencing of the plants, to provide a clear view of all the DNA changes that could have happened on the stay on the ISS.’ […]

Gaume described the absence of gravity, or microgravity, as the ‘ultimate stress’. He said researchers involved in the project were interested in learning more about how the vine canes may have adapted or evolved in a relatively short time to be resilient to the stressful conditions.”
 
The previous oenological mission was STS-51-G, a flight of the space shuttle Discovery in June 1985, on which a French payload specialist brought a bottle of Château Lynch Bages (again, a Bordeaux), more as a publicity stunt for the region than anything else. This time around, the full analysis that ISVV promises will hopefully teach us something key about wine, space, and climate change, all at once. Thirsty work, indeed!

Peanut Butter: Sticking to the Roof of the Mouth of History

peanut butter

Between the standard winter blahs and the pandemic, we at DFC HQ have been leaning heavily on the comfort food. Among them is a childhood favourite that is actually a secret nutritional superstar: peanut butter! Not only is the spread high in protein, it also boasts a good dollop of dietary fibre, vitamin E, and magnesium. (Sticking with “natural” PB — without added sugars — is the key to healthy eating here!)

Also, delving into its history is a fascinating trip through technology and American culture, as Smithsonian magazine shows.

The patent for “food compound” prepared from boiled peanuts or almonds was filed in 1895 by John Harvey Kellogg, a doctor who wanted to give healthy, easily digested preparations to patients at his sanitarium, and whose Seventh-Day-Adventist inflected approach to food science also gave us another breakfast essential, cornflakes. This proto-butter was simple in execution, but complicated in the care required to store it. It took a while to get to today’s common pantry staple.

“Manufacturers sold tubs of peanut butter to local grocers, and advised them to stir frequently with a wooden paddle, according to Andrew Smith, a food historian. Without regular effort, the oil would separate out and spoil. Then, in 1921, a Californian named Joseph Rosefield filed a patent for applying a chemical process called partial hydrogenation to peanut butter, a method by which the main naturally occurring oil in peanut butter, which is liquid at room temperature, is converted into an oil that’s solid or semisolid at room temperature and thus remains blended; the practice had been used to make substitutes for butter and lard, like Crisco, but Rosefield was the first to apply it to peanut butter. This more stable spread could be shipped across the country, stocked in warehouses and left on shelves, clearing the way for the national brands we all know today.”

Commenters on the Smithsonian article have already called out the piece’s American bias, by chiming in that Montreal’s own Marcellus Gilmore Edson patented a roasted peanut paste in 1884. Not only was this significantly earlier than Kellogg, but I also bet Edson’s results were far tastier — as well as being more in line with the peanut butter we know and love.

Whoever claims this stroke of genius, the peanut butter we’ve ended up with has definitely changed North American food habits over the past century. It fills the niche of an easy, cheap, and tasty protein that can be used in sweet and savoury alike. We’ve even adapted the production process to create a whole range of nut and seed kinds of butter, both for taste and allergen-safety! I’m glad this simple invention isn’t leaving our culture — or the surface of my toast — anytime soon.

Child Labour and the World’s Most Popular Vegetable Oil

Palm oil — derived from the seeds of the West African oil palm — is a high-smoke point, highly saturated fat of remarkable versatility. Not only can it be eaten, in things like baked goods, spreads, and candies, it can also be found in cosmetics, personal cleansers, and industrial lubricants; byproducts like the seed shells can even be used in concrete. The palm oil industry is so lucrative in habitats like Malaysia and Indonesia that it’s caused devastating deforestation in pursuit of monoculture; making your muffin or car or shampoo a direct contributor to the decline of the wild orangutan.
 
Palm oil’s evil extends beyond damage to the environment though. AP has produced an exposé on the industry’s reliance on child labour, contrasting two childhood experiences — that of a Girl Scout who sells cookies in Tennesee, and that of the estimated 1.5 million children who work in the Indonesian agricultural sector producing the palm oil for those cookies.
 
“Many kids are introduced to palm oil soon after they’re born – it’s a primary fat in infant formula. And as they grow, it’s present in many of their favorite foods: It’s in their Pop-Tarts and Cap’n Crunch cereal, Oreo cookies, KitKat candy bars, Magnum ice cream, doughnuts and even bubble gum.

‘Let them enjoy it,’ said Abang, a skinny 14-year-old who dropped out of the fifth grade to help his father on an Indonesian plantation and has never tasted ice cream. He has accepted his own fate, but still dreams of a better future for his little brother.

‘Let me work, just me, helping my father,’ Abang said. ‘I want my brother to go back to school. … I don’t want him in the same difficult situation like me.’”
 
As the world’s most popular vegetable oil, palm oil is present in an estimated 50% of packaged products. Manufacturers obscure its presence in ingredient lists by using up to 200 different names for it. Even ethically sourced palm oil can “greenwashed,” as the investigation of the above-mentioned Girl Scout uncovered.
So, it’s tricky to manage our dependence on palm oil. It’s also easy to not see the people (or endangered animals) whose pain goes into these products, being so far away from their origin. Awareness that it’s everywhere is maybe the first action towards reducing consumer dependence; finding alternatives is second. Third is reframing the market entirely — here’s hoping we’ll make it in time.

Pompeii Snack Counter Offers Taste of Roman Past

Pompeii snack bar

Let’s start 2021 off with a bang, with news that, unfortunately, also started with a bang, way back in 79 CE. That was the year of the notorious Mt. Vesuvius eruption, that buried the Roman town of Pompeii in layers of hot ash and pumice, erasing it from the Italian landscape and preserving the artifacts of its last day for nearly 2000 years. Archaeologists have long studied this slice of historical life (as well as that of the neighbouring buried settlement, Herculaneum), leaving the excavated ruins open for tourists to visit.
 
But a tonne of Pompeii is still buried and off-limits to all but researchers. Recently, a team digging in the Regio V section of the site turned up a fabulous find: a thermopolium, or essentially, an ancient Roman lunch counter. Pompeii is dotted with the remains of these establishments — L-shaped counters with amphorae, once full of hot local fare ready for dishing out to hungry passersby, sunken into them. But the Regio V shop is the first to be uncovered whole, with even its gorgeous counter frescoes — advertising the fresh ingredients! — intact.
 
“Traces of nearly 2,000-year-old food were found in some of the deep terra cotta jars containing hot food which the shop keeper lowered into a counter with circular holes.

The front of the counter was decorated with brightly coloured frescoes, some depicting animals that were part of the ingredients in the food sold, such as a chicken and two ducks hanging upside down.

‘This is an extraordinary find. It’s the first time we are excavating an entire [thermopolium],’ said Massimo Ossana, director of the Pompeii archaeological park.

Archaeologists also found a decorated bronze drinking bowl known as a patera, ceramic jars used for cooking stews and soups, wine flasks and amphora.”
 
The researchers are eager to learn more about the Roman diet from traces left at this thermopolium. (Already, they’ve uncovered evidence that pork, fish, beef, and snails were on the menu.) I find my fascination tempered by a sense of sadness: a lunch counter is exactly the kind of regular-Joe detail that makes me think of the people who lived next to it, maybe even popped by for a bite every day — until one day they didn’t. I hope science uncovers much more about ancient Roman city life, down to how they did their street food. Not only does it fill in some gaps in history, but it’s also a way of keeping the last happy, delicious moments of Pompeii’s citizens alive.

Waiter, There’s a Cricket in my Soy Sauce!

Japanese haute cuisine restaurant Antcicada has long practiced the bugs-as-food philosophy that we’ve been looking at recently. Foodies rave about their cricket ramen, made with two kinds of local crickets, in which “[n]oodles, sauces and oils were also developed […] to express the charm of crickets in various ways.” At their new permanent Tokyo location, you can even wash down the umami-rich soup with their in-house cricket beer! 
 
Antcicada is now poised to reach even further into Japanese cuisine with a new collaboration with traditional miso manufacturer Noda Miso Co.: a “soy” sauce that has no soy in it at all, but instead uses as its base — three guesses — crickets! Noda Miso president Yoshinari Noda came up with the idea after developing cricket miso five years ago, after a student in one of his miso-making classes asked if it was possible.
 
“Noda, an avid traveler who had tried insects overseas, found the bugs rich in protein, like soybeans. […]

The two-spotted cricket, which has a ‘strong savory and aromatic flavor,’ and the house cricket, characterized by its ‘delicate and elegant taste,’ were used.

The crickets were provided by a start-up company in Tokushima Prefecture and another Japanese company.

The insects were pulverized into powder and treated with rice malt and salt in wooden buckets at Noda Miso Syoten. No soybeans were used in the production.

‘The flavor makes a difference,’ said Noda, referring to the finished soy sauce. ‘I cannot come up with any good descriptions of the flavor other than “cricket-like,” but it resembles that of nam pla and other kinds of fish sauce.’”
 
As we’ve seen in this space before, much is being made of crickets and insects as a protein alternative to meat. But Antcicada and Noda Miso’s collab is the first time I’ve seen flavour as the main selling point. It’s an interesting (and to me, far more appealing) approach! I wonder how long we’ll wait before that attitude — and possibly this soy sauce — make it to our shores?

Scotch Eggs and What Makes a Meal

Scotch Eggs

Much like a local dive bar who obeys liquor laws by keeping a dusty package of Miss Vickie’s behind the counter, UK pubs are getting creative in order to reopen after the end of their most recent lockdown. According to the law, a pub must be able to serve a “substantial meal” along with the pints of cask ale that form the usual menu. The trick is, many of these establishments don’t have kitchens, instead of serving light, cold foods or bar snacks, which means they must stay closed. This is bad news for the livelihoods of the folks who run these quintessentially British establishments.
 
To help their publican constituents, Conservative ministers are attempting to define the classic pub nosh, the scotch egg, as an official “substantial meal.” As a result, manufacturers of the sausage-and-breadcrumb-covered soft-boiled eggs are struggling to keep up with the sudden demand. In some markets, ten times the usual number of orders are coming in as the debate rages on. From The Guardian:
 
“[Gourmet scotch egg company] Happy Belly normally produces about 10,000 scotch eggs a week, said [owner Brendan] Baury. This week he has made 15,000 following a huge increase in enquiries from new customers, particularly kitchenless pubs. […]

Images and repeated discussions about scotch eggs on the news have also helped to drive up sales by putting the old-fashioned delicacy front and centre of people’s minds this week, according to Peter Nutt, who runs Nutts Scotch Eggs in Weston-super-Mare. ‘I think there was subliminal advertising going on. If you hear the phrase “scotch egg” mentioned enough times, it gets into your consciousness.’”
 
There’s a lot of fun British food out there; I’m glad this unique local snack is rising above the rest and bringing home the bacon for the UK’s small businesses. Whether or not this nosh qualifies as a “meal” is just semantics!

Candy Technology Sweetens New Mask Development

mask technology using cotton candy technology

Just in time for National Cotton Candy Day!: A physicist from OIST University in Okinawa has repurposed a trusty piece of fairground culinary equipment — the humble cotton candy spinner — into an inexpensive, quick, and effective method of manufacturing N95 filters for respirators. N95s are the most effective anti-COVID masks, filtering 95% of viruses breathed into or out of the wearer. This comes from the filter material’s non-woven nature, and its electrostatic charge; both features which make it tricky and slow to produce, leading to shortages. Enter Mahesh Bandi, with his MacGyvered method!
 
First, Bandi heated common plastics, like those from water bottles, as the “sugar base” analogue in the cotton candy process. Then he loaded the cotton candy machine hopper with this material, and spun the liquified plastic into a complex matrix of threads, making a mesh. The spinning process already electrostatically charged the textile a bit; Bandi later charged it fully by holding it next to an air ionizer vent. And voila: an N95-quality filter created with the ease of a county fair snack!
 
“Bandi tested his filters by placing several inside of surgical masks. He found the filters worked very well, but the masks were not a viable option. He then designed his own mask to allow easy insertion and removal of the filters (each mask requires three) and used a 3-D printer to produce the result. Rigorous testing (which included microscopic inspections and comparisons with N95 filters) showed the filters to be as effective at preventing inhalation of SARS-CoV-2 viruses as standard N95-type respirators.”
 
Bandi has published his results in Proceedings of the Royal Society A; with no plans to mass manufacture these filters himself, he hopes by offering his research, another organization with greater resources can pick up the baton. Here’s hoping this fascinating and deliciously simple technique gets wider use and helps with potential mask shortages — with the winter we’re expecting, we’re going to need all the innovation we can get.

Bugs on the Menu for Man’s Best Friends

While we in North America remain squeamish, other parts of the world have long boasted tasty traditions of insect-based cuisine. Over here, food innovators have been laying the groundwork for the adoption of crickets, mealworms, and grasshoppers as an alternative protein for a while now, but progress is slow.
 
At least in the human food department: Purina, a sub-brand of (the still problematic) Nestlé is piloting a dog and cat food line that features chicken, fava beans, and black soldier fly larvae. (A second flavour — chicken, pig liver, and millet, is bug free.)
 
This is in response to a general consumer pivot to more environmentally friendly protein options. Meat production is a stunningly resource-heavy undertaking, and the methane that is a byproduct of cow digestion is a big contributor to climate change. Farming insects for food could popularize a low-impact protein source for both humans and their furry friends.
 
“Purina also plans to offer U.S. consumers an insect-based dry dog formula in January online, Lorie Westhoff, a Purina spokeswoman said. It will be rolled out along with several other formulas using protein alternatives, like the invasive Asian carp, she said. […]

Nestlé doesn’t have an estimate on the potential environmental impact of switching pets to a bug-based diet yet, the company told NPR. But they said they ‘generally see the need to diversify sources of protein in food for a variety of reasons, including environmental goals such as fighting climate change and protecting biodiversity.’”
 
As a dog owner and a foodie, I look forward to further developments in bug-based pet foods with interest. However, as a human, I’ll take anything Nestlé says it’s doing to be a moral entity with a giant grain of salt. Maybe I can learn from this industry change, and incorporate insects into the homemade food we cook up for our liege, Samson? Though he may be too picky; instead, I may have more luck flipping the script — and perhaps a burger with some of our sauce — and starting with us!