3D printing is transforming the alternative protein industry due to its efficiency, affordability, and ability to replicate complex structures.
As this innovative technology continues to develop, several companies have successfully harnessed its capabilities to create 3D printed steak, an achievement that was previously deemed impossible.
Join us as we explore the complexities of 3D printing in food manufacturing, learn industry best practices, and discover how printed steak has revolutionized the future of food.
Steak is incredibly elaborate.
It comes in all shapes, cuts, and sizes. It’s made up of intricately structured components including fat, muscle, connective tissues, and “juice”.
When it’s cooked, amino acids and sugars on the surface of the steak rearrange themselves, releasing distinctive aroma and flavor compounds.
That’s why creating an alternative was considered technologically unattainable. Until 3D printed steak made its debut.
A 3D printed steak is a steak alternative that has been constructed using 3D printing technology.
Unlike plant-based or other alternative proteins, 3D printing builds the product layer by layer, which enables the authentic arrangement of components to mimic that of conventional meat.
The process can be customized to create varying types of steak, from 3D printed ribeye steak to 3D printed tenderloin (filet mignon).
Theoretically, if cultivated cells are used to produce the 3D steak, the result would be an exact replica of its animal-based counterpart. Nutrient levels can even be manipulated to fabricate a product with an enhanced nutrition profile.
Manufacturers hoping to emulate conventional steak need to consider the following components:
Animal muscle is made up of fibers, otherwise known as myofibrils, which are bundled together with connective tissue.
Muscle fibers can contain varying numbers of protein filaments, depending on whether the muscle has a locomotive or supportive function, which contributes to the toughness or tenderness of the steak.
These meat proteins are also involved in binding water within the fibers, contributing to the moisture content.
Fat content is an important feature that results in a pleasant 3D printed steak eating experience.
However, it’s not just any type of fat; intramuscular fat results in marbled steak, which is highly prized by top chefs and meat enthusiasts thanks to its ability to influence texture, tenderness, juiciness, and taste.
As one of the most abundant proteins found in muscle cells, myoglobin (a type of hemoprotein) is a crucial consideration for food manufacturers.
Myoglobin’s function is to transport iron and oxygen around the muscles. Upon exposure to air, it forms oxymyoglobin, which turns steak a bright red color and is responsible for making it “bleed”.
Scientists also believe that the addition of myoglobin, either to the cell culture medium or as an ingredient, can contribute to the bloody and metallic flavor that is synonymous with conventional meat, most likely due to its iron content.
While not a 3D steak company, Impossible Foods uses plant-based heme protein to improve the appearance and taste of its meat alternatives.
To put it simply, machines print out three-dimensional steaks layer by layer based on designs generated by computer-aided design/manufacturing (CAD/CAM) software.
Typically, the fibrous muscle components are printed by an extrusion process, whereby ingredients are pushed through a nozzle. Inkjet printing is used to disperse liquid ingredients (e.g. myoglobin “juice”) and binder jetting can be employed to distribute powdered ingredients (e.g. sugar, protein powders, etc.).
For cultivated 3D printed steaks, bioprinting is proving to be a promising technology. This method offers the advantages of scalability and controllability of structure and composition.
Whether or not 3D printed steak and other printed meat analogs are classified as vegan depends on numerous factors, including the ingredients, research and manufacturing processes, and the origin of cultivated cells. Even if a printed steak is labeled as plant-based, there is a chance that the company used meat in its research and development phases in an attempt to effectively emulate conventional meat.
In order to secure the success of 3D printed steaks, manufacturers should factor in consumer acceptance. Tailoring your product to suit your market audience is essential and you may wish to demonstrate transparency as a value.
For example, while Redefine Meat only uses plant-based ingredients, it does not market its product as 3D printed vegan steak. The company seeks to replace the beef industry's resource-intensive production by targeting “meat lovers”.
While still in its infancy, 3D printing has enabled a handful of food tech companies to attract investment in their pioneering products.
Through the combination of 3D printing (which the team refers to as additive manufacturing) with advanced technologies such as material science and artificial intelligence, Redefine Meat has been able to create several groundbreaking products including 3D printed beef flank, printed tenderloin, strip loin, and lamb flank.
By 2020, the company achieved a printing speed of 10kg per hour and, partially thanks to a very successful funding round, predicts that it will be able to produce 40kg per hour by the beginning of next year.
Redefine uses a combination of legumes, extracted protein, coconut oil, and fruit and vegetable dyes to create its iconic 3D steak.
The coveted recipe has won over many of the world’s greatest chefs and is now prominently featured on restaurant menus across the globe.
A B2B biotechnology company, Steakholder Foods (formerly MeaTech 3D) combines advanced cellular agriculture with 3D bioprinting to enable its clients to independently print their own 3D cell-based meats, including steak and other prime cuts.
By 2020, the company raised almost $6 million in investment and achieved success in growing high-density stem cells through the use of media.
Fast forward to today and Steakholder has pioneered a highly marbled 100% cultivated 3D printed beef cut as well as forming a number of successful partnerships with international meat importers, major supermarket chains, and other alternative protein companies.
Nothing says infinite opportunities quite like 3D printing, which is why this cutting-edge technology deserves your keen attention.
Constant improvements are being made to printing machinery to improve factors such as speed, precision, food safety, and productivity.
Exciting opportunities lie in new and existing technology, such as the pixel food printer and the optimization of bioprinting through the use of tendon-gel-integrated printing.
Aside from printer innovations, the introduction of universal components and scaffolds as well as enhancements to the supply chain and cell sourcing will accelerate 3D printed steak to the forefront of the alternative meat industry.
If you’re ready to be a part of its success, reach out to us at Bright Green Partners.