Realizing cultured meat sought by the next generation

Creating Cultured Steak Meat that Comes Out of a Lab

Carrying on the spirit of Shoku-so I-sei, creating innovative products through new concepts and technologies to serve society—the NISSIN FOODS Group, as a new challenge, is carrying out research on cultured steak meat, a sustainable meat source.

Cultured MeatWill Be the Answer to the Future Meat Issue

The demand for meat is rapidly expanding in tandem with the growth in global population and the economic growth in emerging economies. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), demand is expected to increase 1.8-fold by 2050, in contrast with the level of demand in 2007. In addition, there is the issue of substantial impact to the global environment due to animal feed, the large quantity of water, requirements for vast land, and the emission of greenhouse gases (GHG), including methane, which are all a result of livestock production. Should demand for meat continue to rise at its current rate, there is a possibility that supply will not keep up with this demand.
Amid this trend, cultured meat is gaining attention worldwide as a sustainable food ingredient that could solve the meat shortage issue. Cultured meat is one meat alternative that can serve as a substitute for traditional meat animal-derived meat. It is meat that is derived from animal cells that undergo tissue cultivation. Cultured meat is gaining attention as a “sustainable meat” source that will replace traditional meat owing to various advantages—in comparison with the livestock fattening, it has a smaller impact on the global environment, does not require large land, and can be managed under strict sanitary conditions.

Forecast share of the global meat market

  • *Source: A.T. Kearney report (US)

Cultured Steak MeatRequires the Most Sophisticated Technology

The level of skills and technology required in the development process differs depending on the type of meat substitute, such as plant-based meat alternatives and cultured meat, which are meant to replace traditional animal-derived meat. The NISSIN FOODS Group is engaging in the development of cultured steak meat, which requires the most advanced level of technology.

Development stage for meat alternative

Meat substitutes
This includes tofu steak and vegetarian foods. They differ greatly from actual meat in taste and texture.
Plant-based meat alternatives
The taste and texture is close to actual meat owing to the use of scientific technology on plant proteins.
Cultured ground meat
Cells are extracted from actual meat and the tissue is cultivated to grow cells. It is a mass made from separate muscle cells. It does not replicate the texture of traditional meat. In the Netherlands in 2013, a hamburger appeared on the market which used the cultured ground meat. One major issue was the price—around 30 million yen for one hamburger.
Cultured steak meat
The three-dimensional structure of the muscle tissue was produced in a laboratory thereby replicating the texture of traditional meat. In this process, it is essential to fuse the cells together and convert them into a long, narrow structure. Even in comparison with cultured ground meat, a significant advancement in technology is necessary. In light of this, no one in the world has developed a cultured steak meat that is the same size as an actual steak.

The NISSIN FOODS Group’s Challenge Creating Cultured Steak Meat

NISSIN FOODS Group began joint research on cultured steak meat with the University of Tokyo in August 2017, taking on the unprecedented challenge of creating a thick cultured steak meat.

Futoshi Nakamura

Global Innovation Center, NISSIN FOODS HOLDINGS CO., LTD.

Mai Furuhashi

Global Innovation Center, NISSIN FOODS HOLDINGS CO., LTD.

Shoji Takeuchi

Professor of Graduate School of Information Science and Technology, Department of Mechano-Informatics, University of Tokyo and Institute of Industrial Science (IIS), University of Tokyo

* The following interview was conducted in July 2020. Therefore, all of the facts in this piece, including the job title of each employee mentioned, reflects the situation at the time of the interview.

Pursuing Food Potential Not Yet Realized Before

Potential of Cultured Steak Meat

The NISSIN FOODS Group established its environmental strategy EARTH FOOD CHALLENGE 2030 to commence various initiatives aimed at realizing a sustainable society and raising corporate value. One such initiative being undertaken is the materialization of cultured steak meat. This is being carried out by Taishi Nakamura and Mai Furuhashi at the Global Innovation Research Center of NISSIN FOODS HOLDINGS.

Given forecasts of a shortage in meat supply, cultured meat, which does not rely on livestock, is not only an answer to the food crisis but also contributes to the mitigation of environmental impact. In addition, it is possible to produce cultured meat under strict sanitary conditions, thereby mitigating pollution due to harmful microorganisms and lowering the risk of food poisoning and the spread of infection.
Furthermore, the materialization of cultured steak meat would mean consumers can cook various meat dishes using a thick cut of meat.

According to Nakamura, this is without a doubt the meat of our dreams. However, since no one has ever been able to create cultured steak meat, we struggled over how to achieve its development. It was at this time that we met Professor Takeuchi of the University of Tokyo.

Cultured Steak Meat Research Realized Through Collaboration between the NISSIN FOODS Group and the University of Tokyo

Shoji Takeuchi is a professor at the Graduate School of Information Science and Technology, Department of Mechano-Informatics, University of Tokyo and at the Institute of Industrial Science (IIS), University of Tokyo. He had already been undertaking research on the three-dimensional formation of muscle tissue outside the animal’s body. Muscles made from cultured cells are already being used in a wide range of fields, including drug discovery test models and next-generation robotic research. Professor Takeuchi says he was confident that cultured steak meat could be produced by applying this technology. However, he was unable to secure proper funding for his research as companies and the university did not understand the innovativeness of the purpose of his research.
According to Professor Takeuchi, it was around this time that the NISSIN FOODS Group gave a call out to him. Both parties agreed to develop cultured steak meat together and immediately embarked on joint research.

Major Step Toward the Commercialization of Cultured Steak Meat

Japan Has the Optimal Environment and Resources for Research

Japan was already ahead in regenerative medicine and the research of muscle tissue. This nation boasts highly advanced technology for building three-dimensional tissue outside the body. Owing to this technological prowess as well as the unique craftsmanship of researchers, Japan already has the foundation for being the first to roll out cultured steak meat.
Professor Takeuchi said that although it was a challenging goal to create muscle and internal organs, which usually occurs inside the body, from scratch outside the body, he felt tackling this challenge was interesting from a scientific standpoint.

Barriers to Research

The texture of traditional meat comes from the three-dimensional structure of muscle tissue inside the muscles.Producing this three-dimensional structure outside the body in a laboratory required not only an increase in muscle tissue but also the further maturation of muscle cells (fusing the cells to change it into a long, narrow structure). However, to mature muscle cells outside the animal’s body, which differs from the natural process of muscles cells maturing inside the animal’s body, required a technology to ensure that nutrients were absorbed evenly through out the muscle cells and to properly align them.
According to Furuhashi, this was the biggest obstacle to this research.

The First in the World to Successfully Produce Cultured Meat in the Form of a Diced Steak

A research group made up of members from the NISSIN FOODS Group and the Institute of Industrial Science, University of Tokyo confirmed that injection of Vitamin C during the cultivation process for cow muscle cells promoted maturation. In addition, three-dimensional cultivation, as opposed to the traditional planar cultivation of cow muscle cells, was conducted to produce a thick piece of cultured meat. Owing to this, the team succeeded in producing a long, narrow muscle structure featuring the unique sarcomere of muscle tissue. Furthermore, by stacking the muscle tissue modules and using a special method for culturing, the team succeeded in producing the world’s first large three-dimensional muscle tissue cube (1.0cm x 0.8cm x 0.7cm) in 2019. This was a significant first step toward the commercialization of cultured steak meat with the same texture as real meat.

How to Produce Cultured Meat

STEP1 Increase cow muscle cells

Allow the enzymes to act on the finely chopped cow muscle cells to separate the connection between the cells. After this, the cells are cultured for around 1 week until there are about 100 million cells.

STEP2 Creating myoblast modules from cultured cells

A mixture of cultivated cells and collagen gel are poured into a mold. Thin sheet-like myoblast modules are aligned to replicate the structure of traditional meat.

STEP3 Stacking myoblast modules

We alternately stack two types of different-shaped myoblast modules. By continuing to culture the cells in a state where both sides are fixed so there is no shrinkage, the myoblast modules are fused together. A thickness of about 1 centimeter is achieved by stacking around 30 modules.

STEP4 Discarding the culture solution and culturing cells using new solution

We then cultivate the cultured cells through trial-and-error to find the optimal conditions for growth.

STEP5 7-day culturing period

By continuing cultivation for a 7-day period, the cells inside the tissue grow and become cultured meat in the size of a cube about 1 centimeter in dimension.

Creating Meals of the Future

Striving to Develop Basic Technology in FY2025

The NISSIN FOODS Group aims to establish the basic technology for cultured steak meat in FY2025. The Group is moving forward with research to create large pieces of meat and to faithfully reproduce the taste and texture of traditional meat.
In the future, the cultured meat market has the potential to grow into a major market as a new meat option. The technology used to produce cultured meat is also not limited to beef but can be applied to other resources that may become depleted, such as blue-fin tuna and fresh-water eel. Although there are many issues that have yet to be cleared, researchers are excited and working hard in their research. Nakamura said his son is also very enthusiastic and wants him to quickly complete the development of this meat.

Cultured steak meat has the underlying potential to solve global issues, including meat shortage and an increased impact on the environmental impact due to the population increase. The Group continues to undertake the challenge of creating a future where eating cultured meat becomes a norm.