Meat consumption is on the rise, as is the world population’s growth rate. According to United Nations figures from 2015, the global population is set to reach nine billion by 2050, at which point agricultural systems will be unable to supply enough meat to meet the increasing demand if high consumption rates continue. In addition, combined with food waste, and high production costs, it is having a detrimental impact on the environment, scientists have warned.
To answer some of these pressing issues, one Israeli startup has come up with a sustainable, innovative solution that aims to “digitalize” meat – that is to create a vegan meat alternative using digital processes – to greatly reduce meat consumption, and help keep food waste in check.
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Founded in early 2018 by Eshchar Ben Shitrit, Jet Eat has developed a technology for 3D printing of vegan meat substitutes, that uses plant-based formulations to emulate the appearance, texture, and taste of natural meat.
A former meat consumer who genuinely loved the protein and is extremely mindful of its characteristics, Shitrit wanted to recreate meat using natural, healthy ingredients, while not compromising on flavor, consistency and the overall sensory experience.
The idea behind it was conceived as Shitrit was eager to apply his wealth of knowledge in digital and 3D printing technology to fields he cherishes: food and food sustainability.
“Israel is the birthplace of innovation in 3D printing and digital printing and is a true expert in using technology to address the problems of conventional markets,” Ben Shitrit tells NoCamels. “Nowadays, digital printing is being utilized in areas ranging from organs to dentistry and I believe that, in an increasingly digitalized world, it can be applied to food as well.”
The startup’s technology was developed by first looking at the qualities and components of meat. “Meat is characterized by four components: the muscle, the fat within it, myoglobin and a connective tissue” Shitrit explains. “We replicated, with our 3D printer and precise formulations, the complex matrix that is meat.”
He clarifies that the technology does not consist of actual 3D food printing, “but more accurately multi-layered printing, whereby the machine prints rectangular layers. Within the layer itself, the embedded properties, such as flavor and color, change the ways in which the final product is perceived by the consumer,” Jet Eat says.
Based in Ness Ziona, Jet Eat has five employees. To date, it has raised funding from angel investors and is now working on a seed round investment, with an aim to roll out its product by 2020.
Earlier this year, Jet Eat took part in the four-month accelerator program launched by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology (EIT) Food Accelerator Network in Israel at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. The startup was then selected as a finalist to compete at the EIT Food Venture Summit. Competition winners will be announced in Paris next week and receive an equity-free cash prize of $68,000.
The company maintains a close professional relationship with the Technion and is currently using the institution’s labs to run experiments whereby the plant-based meat is being “tested” and tasted for texture, consistency and flavor.
“It is key to have tasters if you are producing meat. People eat the meat itself, not the technology that is used to produce it, hence this needs to be tasty,” Shitrit said in a statement.
Replacing meat with viable vegan substitutes will significantly impact public health, given the rapid rise of meat consumption over the past decades, the environment, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and may even help answer food shortage challenges in some parts of the world.
3D printing technology
The concept and technology behind the 3D printing of food, especially meat, is not new.
In October 2017, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Yissum Research Development Company developed a platform that, based on edible calorie-free nano-cellulose fiber, would enable the 3D printing of personally tailored food. The technology was developed by Professor Oded Shoseyov of the Robert H. Smith Institute of Plant Sciences and Genetics in Agriculture and Professor Ido Braslavsky of Jerusalem’s Hebrew University of the Robert H. Smith Faculty of Agriculture, Food and Environment.
Globally, companies focusing on 3d food printing include California-based Natural Machines, which developed the Foodini, a 3D food-printing kitchen appliance that enables people to print their own natural ingredients into precise portions and shapes; and BeeHex, which developed a technology that 3D-prints pizzas and pies, using a pneumatic system that deposits layers of edible materials. The founders were commissioned by NASA to develop palatable foods for astronauts’ deep space mission to Mars, according to a statement.
In Europe, while looking to replace steaks with 3D printed vegan food, Italian scientist Giuseppe Scionti developed a machine that can produce pea-and-seaweed-based meat alternatives, VegNews reported last month. Meanwhile, Dutch company byFlow has been working on a 3D food printer that specializes in savory dishes over sweet, with recipes available online for download that can be sent to the printer. 3D printed food will be the core subject of the 3D Food Printing Conference, set to run in Venlo, the Netherlands, in June 2019.
In Israel, as part of a growing interest in sustainable food and the broader struggle against excessive consumption, more companies have been developing technologies for “clean meat,” rather than 3D printed.
Located in Hod Hasharon, BioFood Systems is developing a similar product, culturing meat using bovine embryonic stem cells.
Meanwhile, Jerusalem-based Future Meat Technologies is also looking to transform global meat production with lab-grown meat. The technology is based on Professor Yaakov Nahmias’ research at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Nahmias has noted that Future Meat is the only company that can produce animal fat without harvesting animals and without genetic modification. In May, the company raised $2.2 million in a seed round led by Tyson Ventures, the venture capital arm of Fortune 100 company Tyson Foods, one of the world’s largest food producers.