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Scientists Are Literally Spinning Up Lab-Grown Meat Like Cotton Candy

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The solvent, a mixture of ethanol and water, keeps the fibers made of pig-derived gelatin from falling apart as they fling out of the supercharged cotton candy machine.

MATT SIMON: ‘Harvard researchers have taken inspiration from a cotton candy machine to develop a kind of meat scaffold made of thin strands of gelatin that mimic muscle fibers, on which animals cells grow. It’s a step toward steaks, chicken breasts, and pulled pork grown in a factory instead of a field—but before you get too hungry, understand that it’ll be quite some time before slabs of lab-grown meat land on your plate…

A cotton candy machine… works by heating sugar in a container and spinning it at high speed, flinging the sugar out and crystalizing it into strands, which form into a cloud, usually colored pink… The solvent, a mixture of ethanol and water, keeps the fibers from falling apart as they fling out of the supercharged cotton candy machine. The fibers themselves are made of pig-derived gelatin, which is a product of broken-down collagen. In a regular steak, collagen forms what’s known as the extracellular matrix, or the scaffolding that holds the meat together. How it’s cooked, then, defines its structure and flavor.

For instance, you’ve probably had at least one terribly cooked steak that curls up at the edges. “It’s not very tasty, it’s pretty dry,” says says Harvard bioengineer Kit Parker, a coauthor on a new paper describing the work… “The collagen curled up instead of transitioning into gelatin.” By contrast, in slow-cooked pulled pork, the low temperatures give collagen the chance to turn into flavor-packed gelatin. And by using gelatin to make these fibers, the researchers can create a tender meat analog…

The end product is a meat analog whose consistency rivals the real thing. Parker and his colleagues ran a “texture profile analysis”—more or less a little metal hammer that presses down on the material to test its consistency. “Lo and behold, the chewability, or the toughness of this meat, is pretty similar to the other kinds of meat that you might see in the store,” adds Parker.

Now, some big caveats here: The researchers didn’t do a taste test because for one, this isn’t a food-safe lab. Also, this lab-grown meat isn’t cooked, which will transform it in complex, yet to be studied ways. And growing the animal cells—whether in a petri dish, as other lab-grown meat companies are tinkering with, or on these gelatin fibers—is still a tricky process that requires the right temperature, moisture, and nutrient content’.  SOURCE…

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