UK startup wants to give vegan meats the flavour of animal fat — sans cruelty

With its ‘hero ingredient,’ London-based Hoxton Farms has vegan meat innovation down to a science
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LONDON — While fad diets of yore have ingrained the horrors of fat in our foods, UK startup Hoxton Farms embraces fat as a desirable element, especially in meat alternatives. However, the plant oils used in vegan simulated meat are not an adequate replacement to animal fats, according to the company. 

London-based Hoxton Farms is on a technological mission to change that — using the combined powers of cell biology and mathematical modelling.

“Starting from just a few cells, we grow purified animal fat in bioreactors to produce a delicious, cruelty-free and sustainable ingredient,” said Hoxton Farms, which is still in its research and development stage. 

“Fat is magic. It’s the secret to delicious food,” the company said. Part of Hoxton Farm’s ethos is using a low-cost, cruelty-free, and revolutionary method to procure animal fats, instead of forgoing them altogether. 

PHOTO: Courtesy of Hoxton Farms 

The plant-based meat industry is valued at around US$4.3 billion, according to Food Navigator. Meat alternatives typically use plant oils as an animal fat replacement, which can have environmental drawbacks in the case of coconut and palm oils, reported TechCrunch.

Hoxton Farms said that plant oils have gustatory drawbacks as well, but little progress has been made in the realm of plant oil application.

“People have been trying to get plant oils to perform like animal fat for over 150 years, since the French invented margarine, and we haven’t gone far in the intervening time,” co-founder Dr. Max Jamilly told Food Navigator. “Nobody wants a burger that tastes of coconut.”

Hoxton Farms noted that plant oils are deficient not only in its flavour profile, but also culinary function: they tend to have low melting temperatures that result in a greasy, juicy mouthfeel by the time they are cooked. 

Cultivated animal fat, by contrast, would retain the appearance, texture, and cooking qualities vegan meat companies have struggled to replicate, Green Queen reported,

Jamilly and Ed Steele — both scientists and lifelong friends who met at pre-school — have raised £2.7 million (C$4.75 million) in seed funding, according to TechCrunch. The funding will help the duo expand its team of interdisciplinary scientists and enable Hoxton Farms to work “towards a scalable prototype of our cultivated fat over the next year to 18 months,” Steele, a mathematician by trade, told TechCrunch.

Ed Steele (left) and Max Jamilly (right) collaborated their scientific know-how to found Hoxton Farms (PHOTO: Courtesy of Hoxton Farms)

“Our mathematical approach drives everything we do at Hoxton Farms. We simulate the entire process computationally, from biopsy to bacon,” Steele told Green Queen. 

“This ‘digital twin’ allows us to optimize every raw input in parallel, massively improving the cost-efficiency and performance of our cultivated fat for our customers.”

Holding two degrees in biotechnology and a PhD in synthetic biology, Jamilly’s academic background buttresses this entrepreneurial enterprise with specialized expertise.

“I spent my PhD using a genome editing technology called CRISPR to discover better treatments for children’s leukemia,” Jamilly told TechCrunch. “Along the way, I learned how to grow complex cells at scale — a fundamental part of the scientific challenge that we face at Hoxton Farms.”

According to Food Navigator, the company produces fat by harvesting cells from an animal without harming it and storing them in a freezer. Those cells are then placed in a bioreactor to grow and the company’s scientists work — using its proprietary computational models — to help the cells grow into fat cells. Once matured, they harvest the fat tissue.

The entire process is animal-free, the Jamilly and Steele assured Food Navigator.

Hoxton Farms said that their computational modelling approach is what lends the company its edge, accelerating the fat-cultivation process and making it more cost-efficient than traditional multi-step lab experiments, Food Navigator reported. 

“We’re combining the latest techniques from computational biology and tissue engineering to do science that wasn’t possible a few years ago,” Steele told TechCrunch. 

The Hoxton Farm innovators believe they are at the vanguard of the vegan meat industry’s next chapter. 

“Cultivated fat is the hero ingredient for meat alternatives, and it will solve a huge problem in this growing industry,” Jamilly said to Green Queen. 

“We believe the future of meat alternatives will be a blend of plant-based protein and cultivated fat.”

Wiki Production Code: A0697

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