What is cultured meat? 10+ terms you need to know

If you’re writing, reading, or talking about cultured meat, you’ll need to know and understand the right terms to use. Our guide has got you covered.

Cultivated meat, cellular agriculture, bioreactors, and culture mediums… Since Dutch scientist Mark Post unveiled the world’s first cell-based burger in 2013, this sector of the food industry has blown up. And so have the number of terms attached to it. Even the base term, cultured-, cultivated-, cell-based-, varies depending on who you are talking to.

To date, we’ve counted over 75 companies worldwide that are working on producing cultured meat products, and $800 million worth of investment in this space. At the end of 2020, Eat Just made the world’s first sale of a cultured meat product in Singapore. The Eat Just chicken bites are a hybrid mix of cultured and plant-based ingredients. This combination will likely be the basis of the majority of the first generation of cultured products.

There is no denying that cell-based meat is a juicy topic. However, if you are relatively new to it, it can be tricky to make sense of. In this guide, we’ll explain exactly what it is, and define the most useful terms to help you navigate this topic with confidence.

First up, what is cultured meat?

Cultured meat, also known as cultivated or cell-based, is genuine animal meat (including seafood) that is produced from animal cells, rather than from whole, live animals. It is made from the same types of cells and has the same structure as animal tissues. Therefore it is successful in replicating the experience of eating conventional meat. 

Using this method of production eliminates the need to raise and slaughter farm animals for food. There are also numerous human health benefits and a reduced impact on the environment.

What is cultured meat? This is the production process
Cultured meat production process

How is cultured meat made?

To produce meat and seafood, stem cells are sampled from animals through a biopsy. These cells are then fed with basic nutrients in large vats, known as bioreactors or cultivators, where they multiply and differentiate. As they grow, the cells become the muscle, fat, and connective tissue (as they would in an animal’s body) that make up meat. Finally, the differentiated cells are prepared and packaged into finished products.

Your cultured meat dictionary

Cellular agriculture: Cellular agriculture is the process by which animal-based products are produced directly from cell cultures rather than from animals. Cellular agriculture currently comprises two different approaches: cell cultivation (cellular) and precision fermentation (acellular).

Cultivated, cultured, cell-based: all of these terms refer to food products from cellular agriculture. Studies have shown that potential customers find these terms preferable to  terms such as in-vitro, lab-grown, artificial, and synthetic.

Cell: the building block of all life. A cell is the smallest biological unit of a plant or animal.

Stem cell: a stem cell is a cell that can develop into any other type of cell. This would occur either through self-replication or differentiation.

Cell line: a cell culture that is developed from a single cell and therefore consists of a number of cells with a uniform genetic make-up.

Cultured meat (chicken) from Upside Foods
Cultured chicken from Upside Foods

Immortalised cell lines: cells that are able to keep dividing for a longer period of time.

Cell division: the process by which a parent cell divides into two or more daughter cells.

Culture medium: a solid, liquid, or semi-solid medium that is designed to support the growth of microorganisms or cells. The culture medium is composed of carbohydrates, amino acids, fats, vitamins, minerals and growth factors, all essentials for the cells to develop inside an animal or bioreactor. 

Bioreactor/cultivator: a device or system that supports a biologically active environment. Bioreactors are similar to vats that are used in breweries to brew beer and provide a clean and controlled environment for cells to grow. 

Amino acids: a group of organic molecules that constitute the building blocks of proteins. 

Protein: large molecules composed of one or more chains of amino acids joined by peptide bonds. They include many essential biological compounds such as enzymes, hormones, and antibodies.

Scaffolding: scaffolds are solid materials that provide a structure inside a bioreactor for the cells to grow into the desired meat product.

You might also like: