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According to its creators, "beef rice" made through lab cultivation has the potential to provide a more environmentally friendly option for protein.
Environment Science

According to its creators, “beef rice” made through lab cultivation has the potential to provide a more environmentally friendly option for protein.

Researchers have developed a method of growing beef and cow fat cells inside rice grains, making it possible for distinctly pink rice bowls to be included on sustainable food menus.

Researchers created a novel food by encasing regular rice grains in fish-derived gelatin and introducing skeletal muscle and fat stem cells, which were subsequently cultured in a lab setting.

After incubating the muscle, fat, and gelatin-coated rice for a period of nine to 11 days, the grains were found to contain meat and fat evenly, creating a final product that the scientists think could be a healthy and tasty food option.

Prof Jinkee Hong, who led the work at Yonsei University in South Korea, cooked and tasted the beef-cultured rice, which he hopes will be a more affordable source of protein than traditional beef, with a much smaller carbon footprint.

“When prepared, the rice maintains its customary look but features a distinct combination of scents, including a subtle nuttiness and umami notes reminiscent of meat,” stated Hong.

“He mentioned that although it doesn’t perfectly imitate the taste of beef, it provides a delightful and unique flavor experience. We experimented with different side dishes and found that it complements a variety of meals.”

According to the journal Matter, rice is mostly composed of carbohydrates, but also contains some protein, fat, vitamins, and minerals. Incorporating animal cells into rice can help provide a well-rounded meal and ensure an adequate food supply.

The hybrid rice is more brittle than soft and sticky traditional rice, but it contained 8% more protein and 7% more fat. Rice with more muscle cells had a beef and almond-like odour, while rice with more animal fat smelled more of cream, butter and coconut oil.

Based on the calculations of scientists, incorporating hybrid rice into food production could improve sustainability. The researchers state that producing 100g of beef protein emits approximately 50kg of carbon dioxide, whereas 100g of protein from hybrid rice would only emit 6.27kg of the gas. Furthermore, they suggest that hybrid rice may be a more cost-effective option, with a price of $2.23 (£1.80) per kg compared to $14.88 (£12) per kg for beef.

The researchers are confident that hybrid rice could not only make food more environmentally friendly and cost-effective, but also help with emergency food shortages in areas experiencing famine, and potentially be used as rations for astronauts and military personnel.

The initial test batches of hybrid rice were created using muscle and fat cells from hanwoo cattle obtained from a nearby abattoir. However, the scientists are now searching for sustainable sources of cells that can be cultured in a laboratory, reducing the need for additional animals. In the future, the rice may also incorporate various types of meat or fish to accommodate different preferences and dietary needs, according to Hong.

Independent experts had varying opinions on the work. Prof Hanna Tuomisto, an expert in sustainable food systems at the University of Helsinki, expressed skepticism about the potential impact of the rice. She noted that the final product contained 4.8g of beef cells per kg of rice, making up only 0.5% of the product, with the remaining 99.5% being rice. She stated that while the product could potentially replace rice or other sources of carbohydrates in a meal, it would need a higher percentage of protein to truly replace meat.

Neil Ward, a professor specializing in rural and regional development at the University of East Anglia, stated that hybrid rice could potentially offer a solution for providing animal nutrients while significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions and cutting costs by more than six times. He believes that this research has the potential to contribute towards the development of healthier and environmentally-friendly diets in the future.

Source: theguardian.com