Andras Forgacs, the CEO of in vitro meat (IVM) manufacturers Modern Meadow set up a Reddit AMA ("ask me anything") a week ago to discuss the merits of his product. Below are a few extracts from the question-and-answer session:
Q. How confident are you that you can get it identical to a real steak within, say, 10 years?
A.Real steak is a big stretch. It won't be the first product since steak is very hard to make for now. Instead, the first wave of meat products to be made with this approach will likely be minced meats (burgers, sausages, etc.) and pates (goose liver pate, etc.). Also seafood is an early possibility since the texture requires may be easier to achieve than premium cuts.
While I doubt anyone will make commercial quantities of premium steak within 10 years, we will eventually get there but it will be an Nth generation product.
Q:What is the input, what is the output? Explain like I am five, for 1 kg of meat, what is needed?
A: The input are largely animal cells (muscle, fat and a couple other types - taken from a donor animal through a biopsy) and cell culture media (a soup in which the cells grow made of amino acids, vitamins, minerals, salts, sugars) and then energy to run the process. Output is muscle tissue that is then matured/conditioned until it is processed into meat products.
Q: Are the input animal cells consistent with the output? Or will there be a blending of pig/cow/horse etc to create "beef"?
A: No blending of different species. Pig stays pig. Cow stays cow. Etc. We are using multiple cell types from each animal but staying with the same animal. In fact, an advantage of this approach is that it can ensure purity. Because we control the inputs and have such a tight process, we know the exact ingredients of every batch. No mystery meat surprises like the recent one from the UK.
Q. How does it taste?
A: I've tasted it as have my colleagues. We've only been able to have small bites since we're still working on getting the process right.
I cooked some pieces in olive oil and ate some with and without salt and pepper. Not bad. The taste is good but not yet fully like meat. We have yet to get the fat content right and other elements that influence taste. This process will be iterative and involve us working closely with our consulting chefs.
Modern Meadow have two main aims at present: meat production but also the production of artificial leather, both are huge tasks to comprehend, but it does appear that the research is well on its way.
Q. What kind of meat do you print? Beef? Fish? Pork? Or everything? (Human??)
A. Theoretically, we could make meat from any kind of muscle. That said, we are working on beef first since we want to demonstrate success in something well established. We had previously made samples in pork for our demo at TEDMED but the focus now is on beef.
As we achieve the right proof of concept with beef, we may branch out to other types of high value and environmentally taxing meats as well such as pork, blue-fin tuna, etc.
Human meat is not on the menu. Sorry.
Q.How about a Mammoth steak? Or giant tortoise?
A. Extinct or endangered animals we would never think about eating could be back on the menu.
Q. After perfecting the meats, is it possible to include variety of fat content, vitamins, proteins, etc for flavor purposes? Or will every meat be the same?
Ninja Question Edit: If it does take off and the meat farms close, what do you think will happen to the land?
A. Yes. One of the main features is the ability of this process to make meats tailored for nutrition, health, flavor, etc.
I don't think meat farms will close anytime soon since our global appetite for meat is growing far faster than supply. When some farms do close, what happens to the land will be determined by the needs of local economies - plant crops, residential housing, energy production, etc.
Q.How do I sign up for taste tasting. I'll sign my life away for some new type of food I can try.
A. Thanks for volunteering. If you are interested, please sign up on our website, facebook or twitter. We'll send out notices as we get closer to having something ready for public tastings. We will likely organize periodic tasting events in several major cities. Cultured meat Mondays perhaps?
To view the full Q&A session with Andras Forgacs click here. For a video of Forgacs discussing his first taste of IVM, click here.