Japanese wagyu beef may, in the near future, no longer be the preserve of those who can afford it but could become available to all, if food technology companyJust Meat has its way.
The California-based cell-cultured meat company last month signed a deal with one of Japan’s most respected beef producers, Toriyama who specialise in rearing the cows that provide the coveted cuts of Wagyu beef.
The company claim the Toriyama herd will provide cells to culture wagyu steaks that will be free from antibiotics and have a much lower carbon footprint than grass-fed cows. Toriyama focusses on rearing the particular breed of cows in a way that ensures the specific marbling of the meat. It’s the intermuscular fat that gives the wagyu beef its flavour and Just Meat will need to imitate the right texture.
Traditionally, it is the impeccable living conditions associated with the cows, raised at high altitude and with a variation in temperatures, as well as three generations of crossbreeding within the bloodlines that allows for such high umami levels in the cow’s meat. There is speculation about whether or not a lab can recreate the characteristics of Wagyu beef soley from the genetic information contained in the harvested cells. It is the classic nature versus nurture question. How much of it is down to the rearing? Probably a lot, however, the breeding of the cow ensures that it responds well to particular environmental stimuli, so there is potential.
The likelihood is that lab-grown Wagyu is still a long way off, but this looks like a milestone in terms of collaboration between a food tech company and niche producer. Ground beef will most likely be the first products according to Just Meat CEO Josh Tetrick, but the company's aim is to ‘grow’ full wagyu steaks that today sell for as much as $100 a piece.
Understandably, traditional meat farmers have been resistant to the idea of a mass-produced cell cultured meat as it threatens their entire existence. However, this looks like a savvy move on behalf of Toriyama who stand to gain a percentage of every steak sold derived from their bloodline.
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