This Lab-Grown Meatball Only Took 3 Weeks and Cost $18,000 to Make

By Mike Pomranz |

© Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times/Getty Images

Lab-grown meat is coming. True, we’re still at least a few years away from commercially viable fake real meat, but the start-ups focusing on making meat through science instead of traditional agriculture are streamlining their processes.

To wit, Memphis Meats—which ironically is from the more start-up-centric city of San Francisco—recently showed off what the company describes as “the world’s first cultured meatball.” In a process that CEO Uma Valeti describes as “something that we’ve been working on for the last two to three weeks” at a cost of about $18,000 per pound of beef, a chef used the brand’s lab-grown meat cells to create an Italian meatball that a suspiciously attractive taste-tester described as tasting “like a meatball—it’s good.”

To make their cultured meat, Memphis Meats starts with actual cow cells that are coaxed into regeneration before harvesting. Despite the potential con of sounding like wild science fiction, the brand likes to focus on the pros: It’s friendlier on the environment, producing 90 percent less greenhouse gasses and reducing other stresses on the Earth, and it doesn’t require any antibiotics or other additives.

But what about that astronomic cost? Valeti says he hopes that comes down quickly. “The price of cultured meat will drop quickly in the lab as the technology advances. And the price will fall off a cliff once we scale up to larger and larger bioreactors, until it’s competitive with conventional meat,” he told Munchies. “Remember, meat production right now has an array of inefficiencies that we eliminate—most of the caloric inputs are burned by the animals. There are farms, slaughterhouses, feed mills, and other aspects of production that are not involved in our production process.”

Valeti hopes you might see Memphis Meats products on the market within three to four years. Hopefully not as part of an $18,000 meatball sub—though if any sandwich is worth that much, it’s probably a meatball sub.

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