First Public Taste Test of Cultured Fish Maw in Hong Kong

Catherine Lamb wrote . . . . . . . . .

For many Western consumers, “fish maw” is an unfamiliar foodstuff. However, in China and other surrounding regions, the ingredient, which is technically the dried swim bladders of large fish like sturgeon, is considered a delicacy. For that reason, it’s both extremely expensive and leading to extreme overfishing. There’s even a black market for the stuff.

In Hong Kong, startup Avant Meats is finding a more sustainable way to feed hunger for fish maw by growing it outside the animal. The company got one step closer to that goal last month, when they did the first public taste test of their cultured fish maw at the Future Food Summit at Asia Society Hong Kong.

The fish maw, grown from cells from a croaker fish, was embedded in a potato ball which was then deep-fried. Obviously we didn’t get to taste it ourselves, but in a video sent to The Spoon taste testers noted the ball’s chewy, gelatinous texture, a hallmark of fish maw. Texture is one of the biggest hurdles for cell-based meat, so if Avant Meats has indeed nailed it that could serve them well as they head to market.

When I spoke with Avant Meats co-founder and CEO Carrie Chan back in March, she explained that they had decided to focus on fish maw as their first product because of it’s simple composition, which allows them to speed up R&D, scale quickly, and come to market at a lower price point. Another reason they chose to focus on fish maw is because of its popularity with consumers in China and Hong Kong, their initial target demographic. However, according to a press release sent to The Spoon, their next product will be a fish filet that is intended for both Eastern and Western menus.

This year has been a busy one for cultured meat companies in Asia. Back in March Shiok Meat debuted its cell-based shrimp in the startup’s home country of Singapore, and Japan-based Integriculture recently did a taste test of cultured foie gras.

American companies like Memphis Meats, JUST, and Wild Type have also done several tastings of their own cell-based products, some on significantly larger scales. However, since cell-based (cultivated?) meat will likely debut in Asia, it’s exciting to see the increase in cultured meat and seafood activity in the area — especially for products developed specifically to appeal to Asian palates.

Avant Meats has raised an undisclosed pre-seed round and has a team of four in its Hong Kong HQ. They’re hoping to reach pilot production by late 2022/early 2023.

Source: The Spoon

Inside the Little-known World of Flavourists, Who Are Trying to Make Plant-based Meat Taste Like the Real Thing

Laura Reiley wrote . . . . . . . . .

Marie Wright dips four long strips of paper, the kind you’d sniff a perfume sample from in Sephora, into bottles of clear liquid marked Methyl Cinnamate, Ethyl Butyrate, y-decalactone and Furaneol. She holds the four strips together and wafts them, fanlike, under her nose. Suddenly, the lab smells of strawberries.

Wright is the vice president and chief global flavorist for Archer Daniels Midland, one of the world’s largest food processors and suppliers. She’s a former French perfume industry chemist who has created more than 1,000 individual flavors for major food and beverage companies, and she’s now facing one of the biggest challenges of her career.

Consumers are seduced and beguiled by flavorists without even being aware of it. Flavorists are the people who tinker with nacho cheese dust, Hot Pockets and pumpkin spice lattes. They are the tastemakers, driving consumer trends and making food craveable.

Wright and the planet’s 200 or so other flavorists are bringing their alchemy to plant-based meat. It’s the biggest craze the food industry has seen in a long time, driven by concerns about climate change, animal welfare and human health. It is still dwarfed by the $49 billion beef industry; however, the Swiss investment firm UBS predicts growth of plant-based protein and meat alternatives will increase from $4.6 billion in 2018 to $85 billion by 2030.

Despite its swift ascent, plant-based meat is the antithesis of recent trends such as local and farm-to-table dining, representing an embrace of highly processed foods made palatable in a laboratory by technicians such as Wright.

“These are great proteins from a nutritional perspective, but plant-based presents some challenges with tastes that can be unpleasant,” Wright says.

First, there is the masking of the vegetal “green” notes in pea protein and the “beany” notes in soy, often by adding other ingredients and chemicals.

Veggie burgers were living an idyllic little existence. Then they got caught in a war over the future of meat.

“There isn’t one magic bullet, not one molecule or extract. It tends to be common pantry items like salt, spices, molasses, honey,” Wright says. Vanilla extract is often used for masking because it is known for how it binds to a protein, rendering its own distinctive taste undetectable.

“It sacrifices itself,” she says.

She describes vegetal notes that are more about aromatics. The goal is not to remove these aromas, but to prevent them from being perceived.

“Smell and taste are closely linked in the appreciation of flavor but are independently triggered,” she says. “Taste is composed of the taste sensations perceived in the mouth and odor compounds perceived by the receptors in the nose linked to the olfactory lobe.”

Then comes the insertion of the mineral, musky, charry, “umami” flavors that we associate with meat.

Wright huddles with fellow flavorist Ken Kraut, who works only on the savory side. They swirl little plastic cups of clear liquid, sniffing and tasting. Too yeasty, they say. They want a little less soy and a bit more umami — that elusive, savory monosodium glutamate flavor. Mushrooms provide that, as does Japanese green tea. Meat’s mineralized note can be mimicked by concentrated extracts of broccoli and spinach.

They’ve got a deadline. A big client is coming in the following week to test blended veggie-chicken meatballs, a plant-based burger and a few other proprietary products. Everyone is launching a plant-based burger these days, and as quickly as possible.

“They want to do it in anywhere from six weeks to three months — there’s an urgency, a panic,” Wright says. “Usually, a product is a year to 18 months to complete.”

Wright says an ordinary product — a snack bar or a protein drink — might cost a client $10,000 to $200,000 to have ADM formulate a recipe, which the company can then produce in its own processing facilities. Plant-based meat is different.

“This whole area is expensive because it’s fairly high-tech, with a lot of dollars involved in research,” she says. “Something like this, you’re talking $100,000 to $1 million.”

There’s a lot of heavy lifting that goes into making vegan sea urchins out of soy and vegetable oils or sausage links out of lupin beans, a yellow and occasionally bitter legume. The world is agog at plant-based meats that taste uncannily like the real thing, but nutritionists warn that if companies increasingly rely on chemists to insert desirable flavors into food, consumers might temper their enthusiasm for this new raft of better-living-through-science processed foods.

With their pea protein isolates, their gum arabic and yeast extracts, these new foods are the opposite of whole foods, the obverse of transparent sourcing. Some nutritionists and food industry leaders are wondering if the food system is being led astray by foods that need their flavor and appeal inserted industrially.

“It doesn’t resemble the foods from which it came; it has a vast number of ingredients. It fully meets the definition of ultra-processed food,” says Marion Nestle, author and nutrition professor at New York University, about these new plant-based meats. “Are flavorists complicit? They always have been. These are industrially produced food to which flavors and textures and colors are added so it’s attractive. What they do is cosmetics.”

Back at the lab, Wright and the team nudge the burger formula, trying to achieve the aroma and flavors resulting from the Maillard reaction, a chemical process between amino acids and sugars as they reduce that gives caramelizing meat its distinctive seared flavor.

They dry liquids in a spray dryer, tiny droplets sent through a hot chamber in a stainless-steel box, the water driven off to produce powders. They consider the protein, the flavorings and the binders, looking for a mineral, bloody note and seeking appealing top notes that mimic seared sirloin. They go beyond sweetness, sourness, saltiness, bitterness and umami, reaching for a lesser-known “sixth taste” sensation that the Japanese call kokumi, which translates as something like “heartiness” or “mouthfulness.”

Then they take their thoughts into the kitchen.

John Stephanian, ADM’s culinary director, went to culinary school but considers himself a culinologist, where the culinary arts and the science of food meet. He’s plating the plant-based burgers as the flavorists arrive, deep ruddy patties with charry grill marks, tucked onto glossy brioche buns with delicate Parmesan crisps. Wright tastes, appraising. How is the chew? Is it meaty enough?

Wright grew up east of London and studied chemistry at King’s College London. She worked in Europe for years, moved to New Jersey and commuted back and forth to South America to set up flavor labs. Salaries for flavorists vary widely, she says, from $50,000 to $500,000. Flavorist is a mentoring profession, with trainees spending years as underlings in places such as ADM’s Academy of Future Flavorists program. It takes seven to 10 years to achieve flavorist status, and 20 to be a senior flavorist, Wright says.

“Learning the materials takes three to four years. Like being a pianist, you have to practice. A trainee may do 20 to 30 versions of a flavor,” she says.

Flavorists work with beakers and magnetic stir bars. They work with gas chromatography mass spectrometry instruments that separate chemical mixtures and identify the components at a molecular level. They paint their pictures with essential oils, resinoids, concretes and absolutes, the building blocks of fragrance and flavor. But mostly, they use their noses and skills of prognostication.

Designing an average of 300 new products a year, flavorists have tens of millions of dollars riding on their senses and gut instincts about the next big thing in the food industry.

“There are so many influences from all over the world. If you’re going to hang your hat on a flavor for next year, you may be wrong,” Wright says.

It’s about reverse engineering, listening to clients’ visions while tracking trends and predicting consumer fetishes and preoccupations.

“Consumers are driving trends. Trends only used to come from high-end restaurants. Now, a lot of trends are coming from street foods,” she says. “The consumer has changed. They’re saying, ‘I’m not going to eat that, and I have a say.’ ”

She points to smaller food companies such as Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, which have pushed food giants such as Cargill, Tyson Foods, Kellogg and Smithfield Foods into a headlong race to produce signature plant-based meats.

Before the day is over, Wright checks in with a flavorist working on an energy bar flavored with salted caramel, then with a team in the mint lab working on a gum that both cools and tingles. She tastes a nitro coffee, deciding whether it should be flavored with Madagascar or Ugandan vanilla — the former classic and beany, the latter sweeter with a hint of milk chocolate.

And about that burger. Nondisclosure agreements prevent her from naming the company behind this plant-based burger, but the meeting is a success, the company’s team staying for two days to hash out the details.

“They liked aspects of it, and they also wanted some changes in the fat delivery. They wanted a bit more of that bloody, minerally note and more of that seared taste, as well as that melty quality you get with animal fat,” Wright says.

“A few years ago, they didn’t have to taste so fantastic, but now we can really replicate a meat product without meat,” she says.

Clients often provide nutritional and price guidelines, with the ADM team working within constraints such as calorie counts or projected retail cost. Once the formulation has been approved, the client gets the recipe, frequently having it produced and packaged by a co-manufacturing facility. Wright and her group don’t produce the finished, packaged product. They invent the formula.

With food technology and the culinary zeitgeist moving so swiftly, predicting what will resonate with consumers is tricky — even with Wright’s expanding toolbox of ingredients and food technologies.

“It’s a huge area of investment,” Wright says. “If it doesn’t taste delicious, people are not going to buy it.”

Source: The Washington Post

Video: Chicken Meat Grown from Cells of Live Chicken

A San Francisco company has developed a technique to grow cells from live chicken into meat you can eat – but how does it hold up to a taste test?

Watch video at You Tube (1:26 minutes) . . . . .

Real Texture for Lab-grown Meat

Lab-grown or cultured meat could revolutionize food production, providing a greener, more sustainable, more ethical alternative to large-scale meat production. But getting lab-grown meat from the petri dish to the dinner plate requires solving several major problems, including how to make large amounts of it and how to make it feel and taste more like real meat.

Now, researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have grown rabbit and cow muscle cells on edible gelatin scaffolds that mimic the texture and consistency of meat, demonstrating that realistic meat products may eventually be produced without the need to raise and slaughter animals.

The research is published in npj Science of Food.

Kit Parker, the Tarr Family Professor of Bioengineering and Applied Physics at SEAS and senior author of the study, began his foray into food after judging a competition show on the Food Network.

“The materials-science expertise of the chefs was impressive,” said Parker. “After discussions with them, I began to wonder if we could apply all that we knew about regenerative medicine to the design of synthetic foods. After all, everything we have learned about building organs and tissues for regenerative medicine applies to food: healthy cells and healthy scaffolds are the building substrates, the design rules are the same, and the goals are the same: human health. This is our first effort to bring hardcore engineering design and scalable manufacturing to the creation of food.”

Animal meat consists mostly of skeletal muscle (and fat tissue) which grows in long, thin fibers — as can be seen in the grain of a steak or when shredding pork or chicken. Reproducing these fibers is one of the biggest challenges in bioengineering meat.

“Muscle cells are adherent cell types, meaning they need something to hold onto as they grow,” said Luke MacQueen, first author of the study and a research associate at SEAS and the Wyss Institute for Bioinspired Engineering. “To grow muscle tissues that resembled meat, we needed to find a ‘scaffold’ material that was edible and allowed muscle cells to attach and grow in 3D. It was important to find an efficient way to produce large amounts of these scaffolds to justify their potential use in food production.”

To overcome these challenges, the researchers used a technique developed by Parker and his Disease Biophysics Group known as immersion Rotary Jet-Spinning (iRJS), which uses centrifugal force to spin long nanofibers of specific shapes and sizes. The team spun food-safe gelatin fibers to form the base for growing cells. The fibers mimic natural muscle tissue’s extracellular matrix — the glue that holds the tissue together and contributes to its texture.

The team seeded the fibers with rabbit and cow muscle cells, which anchored to the gelatin and grew in long, thin structures, similar to real meat. The researchers used mechanical testing to compare the texture of their lab-grown meat to real rabbit, bacon, beef tenderloin, prosciutto, and other meat products.

“When we analyzed the microstructure and texture, we found that, although the cultured and natural products had comparable texture, natural meat contained more muscle fibers, meaning they were more mature,” said MacQueen. “Muscle and fat cell maturation in vitro are still a really big challenge that will take a combination of advanced stem cell sources, serum-free culture media formulations, edible scaffolds such as ours, as well as advances in bioreactor culture methods to overcome.”

Still, this research shows that fully lab-grown meat is possible.

“Our methods are always improving and we have clear objectives because our design rules are informed by natural meats. Eventually, we think it may be possible to design meats with defined textures, tastes, and nutritional profiles — a bit like brewing,” said MacQueen.

“Moving forward, the goals are nutritional content, taste, texture, and affordable pricing. The long-range goal is reducing the environmental footprint of food,” said Parker.

“The development of cultured meat involves a number of technical challenges, including the formulation of a scaffold material that can successfully support cells and the development of cell lines that are amenable to cultivation for consumption at scale,” said Kate Krueger, research director at the cellular agriculture research institution New Harvest, who was not involved in the research. “The authors of this publication have developed scaffold materials that show great promise in these areas.”

Source: The Harvard Gazette

Scientists Identify New Markers in Bood and Urine to Know What We Eat and Drink

Researchers at McMaster have identified several chemical signatures, detectable in blood and urine, that can accurately measure dietary intake, potentially offering a new tool for physicians, dietitians and researchers to assess eating habits, measure the value of fad diets and develop health policies.

The research, published in the journal Nutrients, addresses a major challenge in assessing diets: studies in nutrition largely rely on participants to record their own food intake, which is subject to human error, forgetfulness or omission.

“This has been a major issue in nutritional research and may be one of the main reasons for the lack of real progress in nutritional sciences and chronic disease prevention,” says Philip Britz-McKibbin, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at McMaster University and lead author of the study, which was a collaboration with Dr. Sonia Anand and colleagues from the Departments of Medicine, and Health Research, Evidence, and Impact.

Scientists set out to determine if they could identify chemical signatures, or metabolites, that reflect changes in dietary intake, measure those markers and then compare the data with the foods study participants were provided and then reported they had eaten. The specimens analyzed were from healthy individuals who participated in the Diet and Gene Intervention Study (DIGEST).

Over a two-week period, researchers studied two contrasting diets: the Prudent diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, lean meats, and whole grains, and a contemporary Western diet, rich in trans fats, processed foods, red meat and sweetened beverages.

Researchers were able to validate a panel of metabolites in urine and plasma that correlated with the participants’ consumption of fruits, vegetables, protein and/or fiber.

“We were able to detect short-term changes in dietary patterns which could be measured objectively,” says Britz-McKibbin. “And it didn’t take long for these significant changes to become apparent.”

Britz-McKibbin cautions that food chemistry is highly complex. Our diets are composed of thousands of different kinds of chemicals, he says, and researchers don’t know what role they all may play in overall health.

In future, he hopes to broaden this work by examining a larger cohort of participants over a longer period of time. His team is also exploring several ways to assess maternal nutrition during crucial stages of fetal development and its impact on obesity and metabolic syndrome risk in children.

Source: McMaster University