Giuseppe Scionti is a Barcelona-based entrepreneur, inventor and researcher in the fields of tissue engineering and food technology. He is also the founder and CEO of NovaMeat, a company that is pioneering 3D-printed plant-based ‘meat’.
Ahead of his London Food Tech Week (20 – 24 May 2019) talk on the future of meat alternatives during the Food and Drink themed day at Oval Space in London, we explore how both plant-based ‘meat’ has the potential to shake up the meat-free market in a truly mouth-watering but highly sustainable way.
Supermarkets are already burgeoning with vegan and vegetarian meat alternatives, with imitation burgers, nuggets and meatballs among consumers’ favorites. However, using his expertise in biomedicine and tissue engineering, Scionti has invented the world’s first 3D-printed piece of meat that mimics the fibrous flesh qualities of steak and chicken.
He uses vegetable proteins found in rice, peas and seaweed to create a paste that is then printed into a ‘fillet’ that visually and texturally represents the muscly make-up a beef steak or chicken breast.
In using such a highly technical method to make this meat substitute, it would be fair to be curious about the nutritional value of Scionti’s invention. However, the amino acids found in the rice, peas and seaweed are bursting with protein meaning his 3D-printed steaks pack the same nutritional punch as their namesake beef fillets.
3D food printing in itself, isn’t particularly new but has mostly been associated with manufacturing cell-based (or cultured) meat, rather than plant-based products like this. Knowing the value of a plant-based diet, both nutritionally and environmentally, his 3D-printed meat alternative really does, therefore, feel groundbreaking.
Additionally, 3D printing plant-based food also offers the opportunity to personalize and customize the nutritional make-up of the product to cater for varying consumer needs.
“By bio-hacking the structure of these different plant-based molecules at a micro- and nano-scale, we are able to create a piece of ‘meat’ that looks, tastes and feels like a fibrous beefsteak,” Scionti says. “If we can harness the power of plant-based proteins in this way, I believe we have the potential to really change the face of the meat substitute market in a way that is nutritionally, culinarily and environmentally robust and exciting.”
Novameat wants to tackle issues in the food system
Pros of 3D plant-based printing
Scionti’s plant-based paste is incorporated into the 3D printer through a nozzle which then custom-sculpts the piece of synthetic meat. The printer offers various moulding and extrusion benefits but doesn’t require high temperatures or pressure to do so, which means the proteins remain intact and nutritional value isn’t reduced.
Scionti also lifts the lid on cost. “Currently, printing 100 grams of vegetable meat costs just $3 but as the process becomes more industrialized and commercialized, and volumes increase, the cost will go down further. So the process has the potentially to be hugely cost-effective, especially in commercial kitchens.”
Long-term feasibility and sustainability
It’s difficult to navigate the consumer market these days without seeing reference to a product’s sustainability credentials. Brands are, quite rightly, rapidly adjusting the way they source their materials and manufacture their goods in order for them to have as little impact on the environment as possible.
For Scionti, sustainability is the key driving force behind his plant-based 3D printing invention and it’s what shapes his views on the long-term feasibility of plant-based substitutes.
“The nature of the current livestock system is unsustainable. It produces around 14.5 to 18 percent of global human-induced greenhouse gas emissions. In order to combat this, the food supply system requires a variety of food tech advances, including new plant-based and lab-grown meat production strategies,” he says.
“But, while plant-based meat alternatives have already shown their ability to disrupt the meat market in the US and Europe, current technical limitations are not able to sustain scaled-up production of lab-grown meat…yet.
“Merging plant-based and cell-based meat production technologies will therefore be key to obtaining meat substitutes that can simultaneously exhibit the taste, appearance, texture and nutritional values of animal-based meat products, especially in the case of fibrous meat structures, such as beef steaks.
For this reason, at NovaMeat, we are developing novel technologies that merge tissue engineering and cutting edge food tech methods – for example, using biomedical equipment such as a bioprinter through to developing the world’s first 3D-printed plant-based beefsteak. This innovation, that was recently selected by Peter Diamandis and the Smithsonian Magazine as one of the anticipated breakthroughs of 2019, will be part of the discussion that will be brought to start-ups, brands and investors at London Food Tech Week.”
What we consume
Nadia El Hadery, Founder and CEO at YFood, which organises London Food Tech Week, said: “We’re thrilled that Giuseppe is one of the headline speakers at London Food Tech Week as NovaMeat is the perfect example of a Food Tech company that is disrupting the food and drink ecosystem.
“He is speaking on Tuesday’s Food and Drink themed day, which examines how innovation in this sector is happening at a significant rate. The world is continually being explored for new ingredients – with experts and consumers now recognising the planetary implications of what we consume.”