Have You Ever Had “Artificial Meat”?


The extreme weather and ceaseless natural disasters across the globe have severely affected the harvests in agricultural producing countries. As the world population increases, the supply and demand of food become increasingly tense. In addition, animal husbandry leads to environmental pollution and degradation. All these have prompted the use of technologies to meet global food demand, thus creating ‘Artificial Meat’.


Is vegetarian meat a novel food?

Artificial meat may be a relatively new concept. In fact, it has a long history as vegetarian dishes in China, like vegetarian chicken and vegetarian duck. People who abstain from meat eat soy products to obtain sufficient proteins. The raw material of traditional vegetarian meat is ‘soybean meal’, which is a by-product of soybean oil extraction. It goes through further extraction, dehydration, separation and concentration, seasoning, restructuring, then addition of condiments, colorants and other food additives to finally become a variety of vegetarian meat products, such as vegetarian fish fillet.


What is ‘Artificial Meat’?

The so-called ‘artificial meat’ comes in two types, which are plant-based meat made from plant proteins and lab-grown meat cultivated from the stem cells of animals. So far, the artificial meat mentioned on the market is basically plant-based meat, which is made with plant proteins (e.g. wheat, potatoes, mung beans and brown rice), plant fats and oils (e.g. coconut oil, sunflower seed oil and canola oil), plant-based colorants and flavours (e.g. beetroot extracts, apple extracts and genetically engineered soy leghaemoglobin derived from yeast). They are mixed together and processed to produce the plant-based meat. Minerals and trace elements can be added as required to enrich the nutrients in plant-based meat.


Lab-grown meat is also known as cultured meat. The world’s first piece of cultured meat was stem cells extracted from cow muscle which naturally grew into meat through mimicking the cells’ growth conditions in laboratory. It was made into a burger patty. The scientists who tried the patty commented that the cultured meat had no fat; the texture of the patty was slightly tough; there was indistinguishable from real meat.


Scientists believe that if cultured meat can be mass-produced, it will help to reduce the number of animals killed for food. Moreover, the meat is grown in laboratory petri dishes under controlled conditions so no antibiotics are required, thereby minimising the risk of drug contamination. It is also beneficial to the environment because it helps to reduce global dependence on animal husbandry and greenhouse gases (GHG) emission from cultivation. Owing to the high production costs, lab-grown meat has not yet been marketed.


How to feed the world?

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the world population will increase one-third by 2050 thus the demand for global food production is expected to rise 70%. While increasing production, a large amount of water consumption and land use will drive up greenhouse gas emissions. It is crucial how to reduce GHG emission and enhance the efficiencies of energy production and resources utilization by improving the uses of land and water.


Prospects for artificial meat

FAO indicates the livestock farming industry accounts for 14.5% of global greenhouse gas emissions. By reducing the demand for animal agriculture, plant-based meat may help to lessen the abusive use of antibiotics in animal husbandry in the future, also decrease GHG emission to slow down the rate of global warming.


‘Artificial Meat’ is actually a meat substitute. With the advancement of technology, cultured meat will be available on the market within the next few years. Would you like to try it?