Why Mission Barns believes cultivated fat is the key to better plant-based meat

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Mission Barns is ready to launch.

The company has a new 32,000-square-foot headquarters and plant in San Francisco. It has figured out how to make fat from animal cells quickly and relatively inexpensively. It has a product partnership already in place with Silva Sausage, and it is talking to more companies about potential partnerships down the line. And it has $28.4 million in funding, according to Crunchbase, having closed a $24 million Series A round last year.

Mission Barns is missing just one thing, and it’s a big one: the OK from the USDA and FDA to use cultivated fat in food products. But company CEO Eitan Fischer said he is sure it’s coming soon.

“We’ve already submitted the full complete package of information that we and our counsel believe are satisfactory to establish the safety of our product,” Fischer said, sitting in the tasting kitchen at Mission Barns’ new headquarters in San Francisco this spring. “…We’ve collected all the data and all the testing that from initial consultations with regulatory agencies in the U.S. and internationally would be required to establish the safety. So really, all we’re waiting now is on the government to come back to us and say, ‘We agree with your conclusion.’

“And we want them to do so publicly, right?” Fischer continued, gesturing to plates of Mission Chorizo Sausage — made with plant-based ingredients and cultivated fat. “We want consumers to know that this is safe — not just because we’ve established that it’s safe, but people have reviewed it, and they agree with us. And so I think the moment that we have that, we intend to start offering this to the public.”

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Courtesy of Mission Barns

Fischer thinks the public is ready for Mission Barns’ cultivated fat. He first got involved in cultivated meat after he realized that although people care about sustainability and animal cruelty when it comes to food, they still want to eat what they want to eat. 

“If someone wants to eat pork, give them pork,” Fischer said. “If someone is used to since their childhood tasting those flavors, give it to them — do not convince them to become vegan. Give them a product that contains pork, that tastes like pork because it is pork. Allow them to continue to eat the products they love, but without all of the [larger issues].”

On a mission

Fischer grew up around animal agriculture, both in the south of Israel and the United States, where he moved as a teenager. He wanted to make food in a different sort of way, getting away from the sustainability and animal welfare issues that have been omnipresent in the animal agriculture sector.

Fischer started out as the director of cellular agriculture for Eat Just, formerly known as Hampton Creek, as the company announced it was getting into the cell-based meat space. At Eat Just, he worked on making prototypes of cultivated chicken and foie gras, and left in 2018 to start Mission Barns.

As he thought about what products to create through cell cultivation technology, Fischer considered the areas that no other companies had been working on in the space. He wondered which components were most missing from plant-based products. And he wanted to choose something that could be developed in a fairly easy and quick way.

All of those questions, he said, pointed at animal fat as the answer. Fat cells grow more quickly than those for muscles, Fischer said. Unlike muscle cells cultivated for meat cuts, which need a precise amount of amino acids and other nutrients, fat cells can grow on much cheaper nutrients like sugars. Fat cells don’t need to be in any sort of defined shape or format, unlike meat cuts. And, Fischer added, fat cells just like “to sit there and accumulate more and more mass really quickly.”  

“We could grow, we believe, fat about 10x more efficiently than muscle,” Fischer said. “And so for that reason, we think we will have 10 times as much product and we’ll be at cost parity 10 times faster.”

The tasting area at Mission Barns’ San Francisco headquarters.

Permission granted by Mission Barns

Fischer didn’t say where the costs of Mission Barns’ fat are at the moment, but said that he expects it will start out as a premium product. As the company scales, however, he anticipates it will become commonly used in a variety of products ranging from those that are high-end to those available at fast food restaurants and discount retailers. The company’s new headquarters contains a pilot facility that Fischer said will be able to supply a handful of restaurants and stores, but there are plans to build a commercial-scale facility with much larger output once the product receives approval.

Only one other large company in this space is making cell-based fat: Peace of Meat, which is a part of MeaTech 3D. The company is working to scale up with a 21,530-square-foot plant under construction in its home country of Belgium that is slated to begin operation next year. Last month, Peace of Meat signed a joint development agreement to provide avian cultured fat for the chicken analog products of European mycoprotein-based meat maker Enough.

Supplying the missing flavor

While plant-based meat has performed reasonably well across the board, there’s still a significant portion of consumers who say they don’t like the taste of alternatives. 

Fischer said his goal for Mission Barns is to use cell-based fat to change their minds. 

“In blind tastings, all of our products that are ready outperform the existing plant-based by quite a bit — and come very close to, in some cases tying, the conventional meat products. And that’s ultimately the goal, right?”

One of the problems with plant-based fats, Fischer said, is they have lower melting points than those that come from animals. Plant-based burgers include fats throughout their mix, but they melt out, sometimes leaving behind an extremely messy pan, and often creating a relatively dry product. Fischer said that today’s plant-based meat makers often add in additional fats, like coconut oils, which have the end result of making much fattier products.

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Permission granted by Mission Barns

With cell-based fat, Fischer said much less can be used and it behaves in a way meat-eating consumers are used to, with less melting and more moisture. As an added bonus, he said, cultivated fat contains no trans fats — the least healthy classification of fat that sometimes naturally occurs in animals. This ingredient on its own could make the difference between a meat-eating consumer trying a plant-based sausage once or choosing it on a regular basis, Fischer said.

A plant-based product that is heavy on coconut oil may also end up tasting like coconut, so Fischer said manufacturers have to delicately balance the way that different fats impact how their product tastes. That isn’t an issue with cell-based fat.

“We tried to bring out the flavors in these cells,” he said. “All of those flavors are the desirable flavors that — again, going back to evolution — even a whiff of meat or the fat causes in our brain a reaction, like this is a desirable food. This is a good source of energy for us. We start salivating. We start looking forward to eating that meal.”

Right now, Mission Barns is concentrating on making pork fat, though Fischer said the company has worked with fat from other species. Through a partnership with high-end sausage maker Silva Sausage announced last year, Mission Barns is set to make hybrid plant-based meat/cell-based fat sausages as soon as the company gets the green light from the USDA and FDA. The two companies have already manufactured prototypes, ensuring they can actually successfully make sausages with the different ingredients.

Fischer said Mission Barns has made prototypes and done tests with more than a dozen other plant-based products as well. In side-by-side taste tests, he said, more than 90% of consumers consistently prefer the cell-based fat version of products than the ones made with plant-based fats.

But, Fischer said, there is a wide universe of potential products using cultivated fat. Someday, cultivated fat could be used in bakery and snack products. There are even potential applications outside of food, in the cosmetics and beauty industries, he said — though food is the primary focus.  

“We think that this tech is the future of the next category of alternative protein,” he said. “Over time, I think consumers will move in this direction because it just tastes better.” 

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About the Author

Jervie David Montejar
A food lover who wants to try every delicious dishes around him and spread the news to everyone to try it as well. Finding the latest trends about food and restaurants around Cebu and the rest of the world :) "Life is uncertain. Eat dessert first." -Ernestine Ulmer
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