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Would you eat 3D-printed fish made with bioink? Steakholder Foods and Umami Meats are betting on it

a filet of grouper sits on a plate in a tomato sauce
3D printed fish; Image Credit: Shlomi Arbiv

Last summer cultivated meat and seafood companies Umami Meats and Steakholder Foods (formerly known as MeaTech 3D) launched a partnership to culture seafood out of the lab and into Singapore.

Now, the two are back with a hybrid product: the “world’s first” 3D-printed whole fillet fish. This catch is a ready-to-cook grouper fish prototype printed with a fusion of Steakholder’s customizable bio-inks and Umani’s grouper cells.

To celebrate their achievement, Steakholder and Umami hosted a tasting in Israel featuring both Israeli and Singaporean-style signature fish dishes with the cultivated grouper.

So, what makes this 3D-printed fish different from other cultivated seafood? Fully cultivated meat requires incubation and maturation after printing, but thanks to Steakholder Food’s novel technology, the fish is ready to be cooked right after printing because it mimics the flaky texture of cooked fish, and according to the two startups, it mimics the taste too.

According to a statement by Mihir Pershad, CEO of Umami Meats, the cultivated product “flakes, tastes, and melts in your mouth exactly like excellent fish should.”

“We’re excited to be working with Umami Meats to develop 3D-printed structured fish products that have the same great taste and texture as traditionally caught fish, without harming the environment,” Arik Kaufman, CEO of Steakholder Foods, said in a statement.

“With an estimated size of $110 billion and projected growth of 3-4% annually in the near future, the seafood and fish market is a long-time part of our vision for introducing sustainable solutions that increase food security,” he added. Aside from the food security benefits, the 3D bio-printing process is also better for the environment, using 86% less land, emitting 93% less air pollution, and 93% less freshwater pollution than typical meat production.

But the partnership isn’t ending at a grouper prototype.

a piece of grouper sits on top of vegetables on a plate with chop sticks
3D printed fish; Image Credit: Shlomi Arbiv

“Having created a customized bio-ink that works effectively with Umami’s cells and optimized the taste and texture to meet the high standards of consumers, we anticipate expanding our collaborations to a greater variety of species with additional partners,” Kaufman said.

Stakeholder Foods, an Israel-based company, plans to create a line of slaughter-free beef and seafood products as an alternative to industrialized farming and fishing so we can “devour a good steak” and “not the planet.”

Singapore-based Umami Foods has a similar mission: to pioneer “not caught” seafood that offers the same level of quality, nutrition, and flavor as traditional seafood, but without the impact on the oceans or the microplastics commonly found in caught fish.

The two startups operate out of two of the most active alternative meat countries in the world, Singapore and Israel. In January, Steakholder received a $1 million grant for its collaboration with Umami from the Singapore Israel Industrial R&D Foundation (SIIRD), a cooperation between Enterprise Singapore (ESG) and the Israel Innovation Authority (IIA).

Israel is home to a litany of alternative protein companies including Alpeh Farms, which recently announced its first “Alpeh cut” a cultivated petit steak; SuperMeat, a 2015-born startup that makes “meal-ready” cultured chicken; and Future Meat Technologies, now known as Believer, which in 2021 opened the world’s first lab-grown meat factory in the country.

Further east, Singapore has been the center of the cultivated meat industry since becoming the first country to approve its commercial sale in 2022, and home to the only restaurant in the world currently selling cultivated meat, Eat Just’s (aka Good Meat’s) chicken. According to Good Food Institute, as of that year, there are at least 36 alternative protein companies based in the city-state, which have collectively raised more than $213 million in funding.

a filet of grouper sits on a plate with seaweed on top
3D printed fish; Image Credit: Shlomi Arbiv

Singapore imports 90% of its food and by 2030 the island country wants to cut that to 70%. That’s where cultivated meat comes in, but despite Singapore’s approval, the industry has been slow to roll out the meats, Reuters reports.

Steakholder and Umami hope to add some sizzle to Singapore’s cultured meat scene and hope to achieve market entry soon. With the January grant, they hope to scale the cultivated fish products from a prototype to a product that can meet consumer demand.

According to the companies, the success of the prototype and the printing technology is a big step toward commercial viability.

Previously, Steakholder, which is a member of the UN Global Compact, printed the largest cultivated steak ever in December 2021, weighing in at 3.67 ounces, demoed cultured chicken fat, and debuted its “Omakase Beef Morsels” last September, which the company says is a first-of-its-kind, highly-marbled 100% cultured beef cut.

Aside from producing innovative, futuristic meat, as a member of the UN Global Compact, Steakholder says it's committed to acting in support of the issues embodied in the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which include strengthening food security, decreasing carbon footprint, and conserving water and land resources.

According to Steakholder, the printing technology is perfect for expanding to an industry scale.

In fact, the company states that a full steak can be printed in less than half a minute. As the world becomes more open to cultured meat and seafood, and the industry ascends regulatory hurdles in the U.S. and potentially the E.U. and U.K. which are increasingly invested in the space, demand could surge and the steak-per-a-minute claim may be put to the test.

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