Print your steak, save a steer

I spoke with Alexey Tomsov, Technion graduate in Biotechnology and Food engineering (MSc, BSc), about Jet-Eat Printed Foods Ltd., a Tel Aviv start-up which ‘prints’ steaks using 3D printers.

By SHLOMO MAITAL
February 22, 2019 07:19
Print your steak, save a steer

A Jet-Eat printed steak. (photo credit: Courtesy)

 
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In researching this column, I was astonished to learn how carnivorous we Israelis are.

According to an OECD study on per capita meat consumption, Israel ranks fourth in the world. Israelis consume on average 86.1 kilograms (189 pounds) of meat annually – more than the average body weight! This is only slightly less than Australia, the world’s top carnivore. And the Australians raise their own beef. We have to import it.

To feed our craving for meat, in 2018 Israeli companies imported for slaughter nearly 700,000 live sheep and cattle, mostly from Australia, a steep rise of 37% from the previous year. Animal rights groups claim that these animals undergo “a tortuous voyage to Israel in crowded ships, wallowing in their own excrement, sick and exhausted.” Does anyone believe the animals are given proper food and water during their three-week-long 12,000 km (7,600 mile) voyage?

The slaughter of animals worldwide is truly massive. Nearly 1.5 billion pigs are slaughtered yearly, some 600 million sheep, over 400 million goats and 300 million steers. All this, to produce over 300 million tons of meat yearly, three times more than in 1970. As the world grows wealthier, it consumes more and more meat.

Do we human beings have the moral right to impose cruelty on living beings just to feed our cravings? Mostly, when we savor a sizzling steak, we turn a blind eye to the pain and suffering that generated it, because we never see it – it is kept well-hidden.

Last July a bill was introduced to the Knesset, calling for a phasing out of live animal imports. The cabinet approved it. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sarah supported the bill strongly. But it failed to pass the Knesset. Another win for the lobbyists.

The ethical and humane appeals of animal rights advocates join a hard economic reality – we simply cannot sustain the enormous waste that eating meat implies, even if we ignore the cruelty. To feed billions of people, we will need to eat vegetable calories rather than wastefully feed them to animals. Here are the numbers.

It takes about 25 times more energy to produce one calorie of beef than to produce one calorie of corn for human consumption. A large proportion of beef cattle in the US are corn fed. If we ate the corn, we could feed 25 times more people.

According to Science magazine, to raise a steer weighing 700 kg, it takes five million liters of water and 8,000 kg of food. That steer generates 10 times its weight, or 7,000 kg, in carbon dioxide emissions, through methane flatulence. Methane is said to cause fully one-fourth of global warming. For all this, we get just 320 kg of meat. Now, multiply those numbers by 300 million, the number of steers raised and slaughtered annually. In short, we waste 96% of food calories, and worsen climate change, besides causing immense cruelty and suffering.

It is doubtful the world will become vegan overnight – even though India, for instance, consumes only 3 kg of meat per person yearly, for religious reasons, and still thrives. The only solution seems to be to make tasty synthetic meat.

There is a wide variety of people who reduce their meat consumption or avoid it altogether. Vegetarians eat no meat of any kind. “Flexitarians” eat meat occasionally. Pollotarians eat chicken or other poultry, but no meat. Pescatarians eat fish but not poultry or meat. Vegans abstain from using any animal products, particularly food. One study showed one adult Canadian in every ten is flexitarian, and 42% of those are baby boomers.

I spoke with Alexey Tomsov, Technion graduate in Biotechnology and Food engineering (MSc, BSc), about Jet-Eat Printed Foods Ltd., a Tel Aviv start-up founded early last year by Eshchar Ben-Shitrit; Tomsov is a senior manager at Jet-Eat, which ‘prints’ steaks using 3D printers.

How did the idea originate?

Eshchar, the founder of the company, was a devout, almost obsessive meat-eater for 30 years. A sudden change happened when he became a father, realizing that eating meat is wrong for the future of our planet, and the way we treat animals in our food system has to change. Unfortunately, existing meat substitutes fail to compete with meat, and much of that comes from the technology used to produce them. The discussion about 3D printing as a potential new technology for meat alternatives has been around for close to a decade, but never as a full-blown technological project. With a background in digital and 3D printing, Eshchar decided that his life mission is to make meat printing reality.

Alexey, the crucial test for Jet-Eat will be: does it taste good, like real steak, or close to it? Have you done taste tests? What did the carnivores say?


Taste is the No. 1priority for us from day one. People will eat the product, not the technology that is used to produce it, hence it needs to be tasty. This is why taste-tests are a crucial part of our R&D process already today. “Taste” is a very broad term, comprising many factors. We are constantly evaluating taste, flavor, mouthfeel, flavor delivery and much more. Moreover, we are working on novel incorporation of advanced flavors and flavor delivery mechanisms, which make our current products surprisingly beefy – and much more meat-like compared to existing meat alternatives. Combined with culinary experiments, we believe that these approaches will bring us as close as possible to the experience of meat.

What is the source of protein for Jet-Eat printed steaks? Does it match the protein of meat? Is it easier to digest than meat?

We have a unique and proprietary protein formulation from several plant sources. We try to optimize the selection of proteins for their functionality – mostly based on their contribution to the texture of the final product. However, we keep in mind the need to have a balanced source of amino acids and try to match beef in that sense as much as possible. We are incorporating protein sources with high DIAAS (Digestible Indispensable Amino Acid Scores) in our formulations – in order to increase the amino acid absorption as compared to some of the plant-based meat alternatives currently available on the market. In addition, diets that are rich in plant-based proteins are linked in research to many health benefits.

Proteins are also important for different sensory attributes. For example, proteins are important for the mouthfeel and texture of meat and the plant-based alternatives. Our technology is developed from the ground up, tailored for the application – in order to reach these attributes in our products, bringing us one step closer to beef.

Have you considered various “pivots” (shifts in direction) for Jet-Eat?

The basic technology we are developing can deliver innovation in many fields related to food. However, our mission is focused on replacing meat, and this is what gets us excited every day. In meat, we have plans to use our technology to create many different products, starting from beef but not stopping with just one animal.

Can you describe your team? Your current funding status? Your plans for the next year or two?

We have a unique combination for a food technology company. We are a truly multidisciplinary team combining food technology, printing technology, and culinary background. There are not a lot of companies around the world in which a food engineer, mechanical engineer, and a chef are working together to create something tasty. We also have advisers with vast industry experience in food and especially plant-based meat. We have raised a pre-seed round and received support from the Israeli government and the European Institute of Technology. In 2019 we plan to triple our team size, and this will happen as part of a seed round [of funding] we are currently working on.

I FELT guilt pangs in writing this column. Can one write about animal cruelty and still savor a sizzling steak? My wife and I are basically flexitarians, consuming beef fairly rarely. But that juicy sizzling steak is still very tempting.

It will be interesting to see how the combination of moral values, healthy living trends and economics combine in future to change what 50,000 years of carnivorism have built into our brains and taste buds. Jet-Eat’s 3D steaks will surely help move this process forward.

The writer heads the Zvi Griliches Research Data Center at the S. Neaman Institute, Technion and blogs at www.timnovate.wordpress.com

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