3D printing has come a long way, starting after its conception in the '80s with simple things like plastic cups, the technology is today being used for everything from human organs to five-storey residential apartment buildings (yes, you read that right - google WinSun). And of course, food.
The technology technically entered the food industry back in 2015 with pizza vending machines (the dough is prepared, extruded, topped with tomato sauce and cheese, and finally sent to the oven – all within the same machine), but it really exploded last year when 3D printing restaurants became a real thing and dozens of food printers became available on the market.
So how does it work?
The foods that can be 3D printed are limited to the processes available: Material extrusion is by far the most common process for 3D printing food, and, similar to FDM printing, requires paste-like inputs like purées, mousses, and other viscous foods such as chocolate ganache.
The raw material is feed into a syringe-like container and extruded as the nozzle is moved around to trace shapes and form 2D layers one at a time.
So let's talk about this steak.
According to Aleph, in order to create the steak with real cow cells, scientists took swabs from two cows, cultivated them in a lab and pieced them all together. The technology allows them to print living cells that can grow and interact in a vascular-like system helping nutrients move and resembling real steak.
"Our 3D bioprinting is an approach where we assemble a structured piece of meat bottom up outside of the animal from its natural building blocks, which are different types of living animal cells. Our cells are natural, non-GMO and non-immortalised. The 3D bioprinted tissue is then incubated where the cells develop and interact in a similar manner as in nature, granting the tissue the texture and qualities of a steak," Toubia said.
The company believes its new method is a major leap forward towards its dream of creating 'a more sustainable, equitable and secure world' as the process uses a fraction of the resources required for raising an entire animal for meat, without antibiotics and without the use of fetal bovine serum (FBS).
"The natural pluripotent cells can multiply efficiently and can mature into the cell types that make up meat, like muscle and fat cells. It is enough for us to harvest the cells once, and the procedure we use is non-invasive," Toubia explained.
While this isn't technically the first - in 2018, Aleph Farms made a thin-cut steak - this new product is thicker and fattier.
Though Aleph Farms wants to build a diverse portfolio of cultivated meat cuts that can fill dinner plates across the world, they need to overcome regulatory hurdles before selling the meat in the US. Aleph envisions it will be two to three years before the technology evolves to a point where the product is available commercially.