Taste, variety and price key to getting hawkers and customers to pick cell-based meat

Loo's Hainanese Curry Rice with cultivated chicken bites and Keng Eng Kee Seafood's cultivated chicken satay. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - When Mr Loo Kia Chee's renowned Hainanese curry rice stall in Tiong Bahru served cell-based chicken nuggets for a few days earlier this year, his circle of hawker friends were curious and slightly sceptical about the novel meat.

"They asked whether it tasted just like chicken, whether it was tasty and juicy, what the texture was like," said the 62-year-old owner of Loo's Hainanese Curry Rice on Friday (June 10).

The stall had served its curry rice topped with cell-cultured chicken slices from Eat Just's Good Meat - a Californian food technology firm - for a few days between February and March this year.

He was speaking to The Straits Times on the sidelines of the ground-breaking ceremony of Good Meat's largest Asia facility in Bedok, which will be built by the first quarter of next year.

Mr Loo added that to get more hawkers, eateries and consumers on board with cell-cultured meat, the price, taste and ability of the meat to be incorporated into traditional hawker fare must be considered.

The breaded chicken nuggets can be sold in Western food stalls, but Asian cuisine uses different parts of a whole chicken, such as chicken feet, he noted.

Good Meat's chicken is used in dumplings at Cantonese restaurant Madame Fan, and was transformed into satay at zi char eatery Keng Eng Kee Seafood. The cultivated chicken satay was served at the eatery for three days last month.

Minister for Sustainability and the Environment Grace Fu, who was guest of honour at the ground-breaking event on Friday, said it is important for cell-based meat to continue improving in taste, texture and variety, so that it resembles ordinary meat.

"(The satay) is an important development because I think people will be looking for different ways the protein is presented because in Singapore, food is (part of) our culture and delight in life," she added.

Mr Loo said the customers who tried the chicken bites at his stall said the meat tasted 98 per cent similar to chicken breast, but the cultivated version had a slightly softer bite than ordinary chicken.

The cell-cultured chicken nuggets and satay were also served to guests at the event at Bedok Food City on Friday.

Ms Fu said this was her second time tasting the chicken bites, and that the meat was a much more improved version compared with her first tasting in 2020 - a nod to Good Meat's continued work to improve its product.

Keng Eng Kee Seafood co-owner Paul Liew, 41, said younger hawkers and business owners would be more open to cooking and selling cell-cultured meat since they may be more attuned to sustainability efforts.

Mr Liew also noted that having a new stream and version of chicken meat with the upcoming facility will help the nation shore up its food security against future supply shocks.

It has been more than a week since Malaysia imposed its chicken export ban. More than 30 per cent of Singapore's chicken supply comes from Malaysia.

On whether Good Meat can ramp up its production to help Singapore safeguard against future chicken supply issues, Eat Just chief executive Josh Tetrick said it is possible, but it will not be easy to get to that stage.

"We have to get larger vessels installed, hire more people, allocate more capital... A lot of engineering, research and development, and costs have to come down," he added.

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