• Directory of Taiwan

Future of Food: Lab-grown lobster meat and PhytoFat

Food Taipei Mega Shows feature scientists eager to disrupt an unsustainable food chain

Pioneering lab-grown lobster and shrimp. (Food Taipei image)

Pioneering lab-grown lobster and shrimp. (Food Taipei image)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The "Future of Food" forum at Food Taipei on Thursday (June 15) featured presentations by a number of scientists looking for new ways to feed the world and dispel wasteful and polluting practices largely associated with animal husbandry.

Shiok Meats CEO and co-founder Sandhya Sriram started the afternoon session by appearing in a pre-recorded video presentation from her company’s headquarters in Singapore. Her specialty is stem cell research, and she has been using this science to produce lab-grown meat and shellfish.

Sriram said a lot more needs to be done to ensure the survival of the human race. "We will soon reach a population of 10 billion in the next few decades. This means we will need to produce 60% more food to feed everyone."

Sriram said that animal agriculture accounts for 16–19% of greenhouse gas emissions and uses roughly 83% of available agricultural land. She said her interest in lab-grown meat was inspired by news that researchers had reduced the cost of a lab-grown hamburger patty from an original NT$10,000 (US$300) to just NT$1,000 (US$30).

This convinced Sriram to apply her stem cell training to other types of meat that could be lab-raised: Shrimp, lobster, and shellfish.

Sriram described the basics of lab-grown meat as extracting stem cells associated with an animal’s fat and muscle. Building a stem cell bank by placing stem cells in tubes, and loading everything into a stainless steel bioreactor.

These stem cells are then fed a special mixture of proteins and amino acids, and begin to develop into a slurry in four to six weeks. The slurry is then separated into solids (meat) and liquid.

The solids can be used as a dumpling filling or an ingredient in other food, and the liquid can be dehydrated and turned into a seasoning powder. Sriram says her company is the only lab-cultivated crab and lobster producer in the world.

The Singaporean government has been supportive of her efforts, as it is trying to decrease reliance on imports from 90% to just 70% by the year 2030. Sriram’s company is working toward a new model of food production that could help sustain Singapore’s 6 million residents.

For the moment, Sriram is working on long-term technology that needs more investment to reach economies of scale and profitability. "At the moment we don’t have a product on the retail market, but what we can do is educate the public and get them ready to accept that lab-grown meat is safe and cost-effective."

Future of Food: Lab-grown lobster meat and PhytoFat
Making fake meat tastier with a new innovation, PhytoFat. (Food Taipei image)

Another novel and disruptive technology working in the food sector is Lypid, which raised NT$123 million (US$4 million) in initial seed funding in the U.S. It relocated its headquarters to Taipei in the past year.

"We started by producing a plant-based fat because this is the second largest component of meat, following protein. At least 40% of a typical hamburger is made up of fat," said Lypid co-founder Huang Jen-yu (黃仁佑).

Huang recently returned from a visit to a number of wineries in California that were interested in having a vegetarian or vegan menu option. Typically, such establishments serve a platter of cold-cuts, sausages, or cheese that are paired with their wines.

"At the moment, alternative meats are only 2% of the meat market. It’s definitely something that is growing."

Huang said that Taiwan has a long history of vegetarian food, mostly for religious purposes, but in the U.S. and Europe, a large proportion of young people are vegetarian or flexitarian for health or environmental reasons.

Huang said his PhytoFat allows food to taste much better. "Without fat, these fake meats can feel dry. This is why we want to achieve visible, juicy fat. In traditional vegetarian meats, there is an oil leak problem.

"When cooking, the oil comes out. The first bite is good, but the more you eat, the worse it tastes."

Lypid’s PhytoFat is a special fat encapsulation technology that keeps the fat within the meat during cooking and helps the meat replicate animal tissue.

Huang is confident that his technology, as well as the prevalence of other alternative meats such as lab-grown products, will soon be available to consumers. "The future isn’t far away; it’s very close, in fact, much closer than any of us think."

Lypid recently launched the world’s first plant-based pork belly, which can be sampled at two restaurants in the Taipei area: BaganHood and 23 Public. Furthermore, a partnership with Louisa Coffee allows customers to dine on a fake hamburger.

"Taiwan consumers are very well prepared for change, and there are more restaurants eager to switch to vegetarian food because Taiwan's food culture is diverse and local people can eat anything. I believe young people will eat less meat, and this can help the world become even better by saving water, carbon, and other resources."

Huang added his innovations with PhytoFat have not only involved fake meats but also carried over to related fields such as bread, baking, and desserts.