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The first synthetic steak: review after tasting

Dr.Roey Tsezana tried to taste Redifine Meat's meat substitute at a restaurant in Haifa and it heralds good progress, but still not satisfactory when it comes to the gap between cultured meat and real meat, but it is still only a matter of time

From the festive menu of Mambo Milano restaurant. Photo: Dr.Roey Tsezana

For several years now I have been talking about the bright future of genetically engineered meat, and now - finally - I was able to eat the first synthetic steak. And if I've already eaten, then of course it's impossible without sharing and writing a review.

Before we continue, I want to make it clear that I do not receive payment or favors of any kind for writing. In fact, no one even asked or suggested that I write this review. But I have a keyboard, so I use it.

And now that I've clarified the situation, here's some background.

There are two types of genetically modified meat today. The first, which everyone talks about enthusiastically, is the "laboratory meat", also called "cultured meat". The idea here is to grow muscle cells in the lab, let them multiply and train them to produce meat fibers, and finally harvest them and combine them all into... something. Maybe a meatball, maybe a real steak. If we succeed in producing laboratory meat in large quantities, then it can solve a significant part of our climate problems. Without referring at all to the water consumption of cows and sheep, all of these are currently responsible for approximately two-thirds of methane emissions due to human activity. The lab meat can solve all this.

The second type of genetically engineered meat is also called "synthetic meat" or "meat substitute". This type has been around for a long time. In principle, Tivol's corn chips are also a meat substitute. However, in recent years there has been a leap forward in the level of taste, smell and even the texture of synthetic meat. Companies like Beyond Meat have succeeded in producing vegetarian burgers that easily rival the taste of McDonald's meat burgers. I'm a die-hard carnivore, and I still have to admit they're pretty tasty. True, they don't come close to the wonderful taste of the 300-gram hamburger-with-roasted-onion-and-egg at the legendary Haifa Cinta Bar restaurant, but if I had to do the worst of all and choose between them and McDonald's hamburgers, I know which Because I would go.

Still less tasty than real meat

Both types of genetically engineered meat have difficulty dealing with two major challenges: the first is creating a texture that mimics that of a beef steak or chicken fillet. The second is, of course, the taste.

When the Israeli company Redefine Meat recently released its "new cuts of meat", I was immediately interested in where I could taste them and understand how well the company was able to overcome the challenges. The opportunity to taste it came at the "Mashta Purim" at the Mambo Milano restaurant in Haifa, which for the first time in its history offered a "plank steak" dish from Redefine's synthetic meat, with butter, honey, spinach fondue and caramelized onions.

The problem was that, as I already mentioned, I strongly believe that the genetically modified meat will take the place of the cow on the plate. In other words, I'm heavily biased in favor of the synthetic meat. Since this is how I saw fit for the sake of balance to add to me the wisest of women, not to mention the most critical of them all. She is also an avid carnivore, and her senses have been sharpened by the hamburgers, steaks and roast cuts from many countries.

And so we both arrived for a date night at Mambo in Milan, and ordered the most advanced synthetic steak in the world, at a cost of NIS 124 for approximately two hundred grams.

We got six oval-brown rectangles on a large plate.

The synthetic meat we got at the restaurant. Photo: Dr.Roey Tsezana

At first glance they did not look very impressive. Even at second and third glance. It was clear that they had received a generous addition of food coloring, probably beets. They were also too uniform - almost perfectly rectangular. Oddly enough, it was their uniformity that put us off. Almost without noticing, we got used to expecting the meat on our plate to be in different forms.

The texture was more impressive. Let's start by saying that this steak was not. At least not the more popular types of cuts, such as sirloin, filet and entrecote. It was more like a piece of roast or asado that had been sitting in a pot bubbling for four long hours. The fibers of the 'meat' peeled off from it, and it certainly provided a pleasant sensation of chewing meat. There is still a lot to improve in terms of texture, especially if the end goal is to produce the cuts that meat eaters love more, but this is certainly an impressive advance in the field.

Last but not least, what about the taste? Here there was no great enthusiasm on our part. The new meat was juicy, but the taste was... not good. It's hard for me to describe it better, but it was clear that it was not meat of animal origin. It was incomparable to a thick, juicy cut of beef fillet, with an aroma that makes you believe in God again and one bite of it makes you jump to heaven. He didn't even come close to this work of art, the kind that can be found in a limousine in Ramat Yishai, in a Koronpol in Ma'aloat-Tarshiha, or in the sheitel that I sear in the cast iron pan in my kitchen. It didn't overwhelm the senses in any way, and had a slight aftertaste that reminded, again, of beets.

All these impressions were backed up by the army woman next to me. She was ready to sacrifice her wait and her stomach for me, but after two rectangles out of the six she announced with restrained politeness that she was already full. And this from a lady who easily eats two hundred grams of meat alongside good chips and a glass of red wine.

disappointing? I admit yes.

I took comfort in one thought and one experience I had that week.

The encouraging experience came two days later, when I was sitting in a restaurant that had gained a good name in Haifa and I decided to compare the new meat with the... well, the old meat. I ordered fillet medallions at a cost of NIS 145 for 220 grams, with demi-glas sauce and mushroom cream. Despite the high price, the meat arrived tasteless and devoid of juiciness. This dish didn't even bring me closer to the angel Gabriel, let alone God. I barely made it to the Western Wall.

The failed fillet reminded me that there are many ways to ruin even good meat. All of a sudden, the synthetic meat seems much more tempting to me. This is how it is when nostalgia for well-prepared meat meets mediocre reality. It is certainly possible that already today, high-quality synthetic meat can surpass in taste and texture ordinary meat in a normal-minus restaurant.

The other thought that accompanied me is that this is still experimental synthetic meat. The production methods of the synthetic meat are perfected every year, and the variety of flavors that can be added to it will only increase over the years. I arrived convinced of the future superiority of the new meat, and left even more convinced. I saw how he progressed from Tivol's schnitzels (which are indeed tasty, but do not come close to imitating meat), to a product that is very similar in texture to a real piece. I'm guessing that within a few years, and after a few more developments and refinements of this kind, more and more people will prefer to order synthetic meat over real meat.

As Pat Brown, CEO of Impossible Foods, said: “We're getting better [in meat production] every year. The violation - no."

As for me, I'm not going to order synthetic meat again unless I find it has dropped dramatically in price or experienced a major improvement in taste and texture. The day I start hearing rave reviews about a GM meat product, you can bet I'll run to try it myself.

I don't despair. The revolution is yet to come. But until then, this particular carnivore prefers to stick to the traditional product we know so well.

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