Feb 1st 2019

Israeli start-up grows world’s first cell-based steak for $50

Rosie Wardle
Rosie Wardle
Investment Associate
  • CPT Capital holding Aleph Farms produces the world’s first cell-based
  • Each steak sample took between two and three weeks to produce and cost just $50.

A handful of companies are trying to make real, environmentally friendly beef and chicken from animal cells, bypassing farm animals. But only one is successfully pursuing the “holy grail” of meat-eaters: the steak. Israeli start up Aleph Farms has produced the world’s first lab-grown prototype steak, managing to re-create the complex texture that is so important to its flavour, and marking a milestone on the journey towards meat without slaughter.

The Israeli start-up got its start with help from Technion, a leading technical institute in Israel, and Food Kitchen, an incubator that belongs to food giant the Strauss Group, with the aim to produce cell-grown meat that resembles free-range meat.

What sets Aleph Farms apart?

The aroma coming off a pan-seared steak is a big part of its magic. Our sense of smell is lodged in a part of the brain called the limbic system, which houses emotion and long-term memory. We’ve all experienced a familiar smell triggering a personal memory.

While specialised cells in our nose pick up odorants, our taste buds are busy detecting tastants (chemicals in food), sending another set of signals that distinguish between sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami to the brain. Ultimately, messages about taste and smell converge, enhancing our perceptions of the food we eat.

But to fully determine flavour, we also consider the feeling of the food in our mouths. In order words: its texture. This is Aleph Farm’s true contribution to the lab-grown meat field. As CEO and founder, Didier Toubia, described Aleph Farm’s steak to Business Insider: “It was a little bit chewy, same as meat. We saw and felt the fibres when we cut it with a knife.”

People love steak because of the way it feels in their mouths. It delivers flavour, tenderness, and juiciness in a combination equalled by no other meat. Palate-pleasing texture is Aleph Farm’s secret.

How does Aleph Farms mimic the texture of steak?

Crafting a burger, meatball, or any other product that combines several ingredients with ground meat is much easier than mimicking the complex texture of a steak.

So how does Aleph Farms do it?

Shulamit Levenberg, the dean of the Technion Israel Institute of Technology’s biomedical engineering faculty, serves as Aleph’s chief scientific officer, and Neta Lavon, an experienced stem-cell researcher who developed cell-therapy products from stem cells for diabetes and the neurodegenerative disease ALS, serves as Aleph’s vice president of research and development.

Instead of growing only one or two types of animal cells on a flat surface, Aleph extracts four types of cell from the cow – support cells, fat cells, blood vessel cells, and muscle cells – and grows them on a three dimensional scaffold. This allows them to create a fully-textured meat, including all the components that provide the necessary structure and connections for the tissue.

The company also claims to be growing them in a medium that is free of fetal bovine serum, the rich cow-based liquid that’s currently the lab standard for nourishing cells.

According to the company, each of the steak prototypes took between two and three weeks to produce and cost $50 – a significant decrease in price from the first lab-grown hamburger in 2013, which cost scientists £225,000.

There are currently no lab-grown meat products on sale commercially, although some companies that have announced plans to supply meat to restaurants by the end of this year. Aleph Farms intends to sell its lab-gro

Rosie Wardle
Rosie Wardle
Investment Associate