SINGAPORE - In a couple of years, consumers will get to try pulled pork and dumplings made by mixing cell-based meat with plant-based proteins, after an alternative novel meat innovation centre opens here in the second half of 2023.
The hybrid meat innovation centre – said to be a world’s first – is a tie-up between Dutch cultivated pork company Meatable and local plant-based butcher Love Handle.
Hybrid meat refers to a newer type of alternative protein where plant-based meat, animal cells and even fermented edible microbes or algae are mixed to form a fusion protein product. This takes the optimal properties of each alternative to enhance the final hybrid product’s taste, texture and nutrition, said Mr Ken Kuguru, Love Handle’s co-founder and chief executive.
“Picture the marbling on a steak or a layered roast pork belly. Today’s plant-based options cannot create layers or variety, but by combining plant and cell bases, we can create new innovations,” he said. “Plant-based meat… sometimes lacks the same meaty texture or the nutritional profile that consumers are looking for in traditional meat, whereas cell-based meat is currently too expensive and not ready to be commercialised.”
But the hybrid meat the two companies are looking at differs from the plant-based ingredients, spices and herbs that currently play a supporting role in making cell-cultured meat dishes complete. For instance, the cell-based chicken nuggets by Californian company Eat Just – approved for sale in Singapore in 2020 – comprise about 75 per cent cultivated chicken and 25 per cent plant-based ingredients to help with the nugget’s structure.
Instead of acting as supportive or filler ingredients in cell-based meat, plant-based foods will have a key role in hybrid products.
By 2024, Meatable and Love Handle are aiming to have hybrid meat items such as pork belly, meatballs, cold cuts and patties on the menus of local restaurants. By 2025, they hope the items will reach supermarket shelves.
The new innovation centre will have a kitchen and lab fitted with high-tech equipment suitable to make hybrid meat and plant-based products. These include industrial blenders, mixers, emulsification equipment and tools to analyse food texture.
The US$6 million (S$8.2 million) innovation centre will also act as a showroom where consumers and eatery owners will be able to taste the fusion meats. A retail space will also be set up at the centre, said Meatable in a statement last week.
The centre and Meatable’s expansion into Singapore will create more than 50 new jobs here in the coming years, which include cell and food biologists, said the company’s chief commercial officer Caroline Wilschut, who did not reveal the location of the centre.
Meatable’s cell-cultivation technology involves a genetic intervention that converts stem cells taken from a piglet’s umbilical cord into fat or muscle cells, two cell types found in conventional meat. Those cells are then multiplied to form masses of tissue in bioreactors.
With ambitions to have its slaughter-free pork land on menus here by 2024, the Dutch company is currently in advanced discussions with the Singapore Food Agency as it seeks regulatory approval, said Ms Wilschut. As at October, Singapore had approved seven novel food products from five companies.
The new centre will also have space for local plant-based start-ups to help them commercialise their products. Ms Wilschut added that the hybrid option also makes business sense for the small and niche cultivated meat ecosystem. Tapping the larger plant-based sector, which is already in the market, will help the company reach customers faster.
Local cultivated meat start-ups said the innovation centre will be beneficial. Dr Sandhya Sriram, group chief executive and founder of cultivated seafood and meat company Shiok Meats, noted that most start-ups will launch a hybrid product. Shiok Meats’ first dish prototype in 2019 was siew mai made with cell-based shrimp and plant-based pork.
Mr Ong Shujian, co-founder of alternative protein company Ants Innovate, said: “We see the cultivated meat industry gradually learning from the innovations and achievements of the plant-based and precision fermentation industry. This new centre can potentially be a blessing to Ants Innovate and the entire industry by lowering the borders between cultivated, plant-based, fermentation and other proteins such as insects.”