Would You Try Steak From a 3D Printer?


“You know, I know this steak doesn’t exist. I know that when I put it in my mouth, the Matrix is telling my brain that it is juicy and delicious. After nine years, you know what I realize? Ignorance is bliss.”

While that Joe Pantoliano line from the 1999 sci-fi thriller The Matrix applies to a fake steak from the AI simulation that gives the film its name, we might soon be pondering the nature of steak here in the “real” world.

That’s thanks to Redefine Meat, a well-funded startup trying to become the Impossible Burger of the steak world with a little help from 3D printing. Co-founded by two alums of HP’s digital printing division, Redefine has worked with a team of chefs, butchers, and food tech wizards to replicate not just the look of steak, but the taste, and texture as well.

In basic terms, their proprietary printers (about the size of an industrial refrigerator) create different layers of “alt-meat” that all add up to what we would consider a steak. That involves printing “alt-fat,” “alt-muscle,” and even “alt-blood” in order to create something as faithful to the real thing as possible. Yes, this fake steak bleeds in an effort to look like the real thing.

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The end result is a steak designed with less fat and cholesterol than beef without skimping on the protein. As an added advantage, these layers of fake steak add up to a smaller environmental impact: Redefine’s calculations suggest their plant-based alternative requires less than 10 percent of the water and land needed to get beef from a real cow, while producing about 90 percent less CO2.

It’s not a one size fits all solution, either. Redefine’s goal is to sell their 3D printers to restaurants, so they can customize the printing “recipe” to their own liking.

“We can use a 3D model of an entirely different meat product with the same machine, process, and ingredients, whereas traditional food production technologies have to change entire formulations,” cofounder and CEO Eschar Ben-Shitrit told Fast Company. “We can also iterate a steak to be softer, harder, juicier with less fat, and much more—all with a simple click of a button.”

While Redefine’s printers can currently produce faux steak for a price equal to what you’d see at a high-end steakhouse, they believe that costs will go down in time as the company is able to scale. A round of seed funding from CPT Capital, whose early investment in Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods helped those plant-based companies grow, may help them get there.

While many restaurateurs are unsure what the future holds, Redefine still hopes to start testing in real restaurants later this year so 3D printer distribution can begin in earnest in 2021. Between them and other companies pursuing similar goals, hopefully they can prove once and for all that enjoying a nice, juicy “steak” and caring about the environment aren’t mutually exclusive. 

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