Lab-grown meat could soon see a significant enhancement in flavour.

Although cultivated meat has successfully mimicked the appearance of conventional meat, achieving an authentic taste has remained a challenge. 

Lab-grown meat, also known as cultured meat, offers a sustainable alternative to conventional meat production. 

It provides animal protein without the need for animal slaughter, thus addressing ethical and environmental concerns. 

Previous research has focused on developing scaffolds and 3D structures to replicate the shape and texture of traditional meat products such as steaks and meatballs. 

However, flavour has often been overlooked in these strategies.

A new development by Korean researchers promises a breakthrough, potentially bringing the flavour profile of lab-grown meat closer to that of traditional meat products.

A team at Yonsei University, Seoul, South Korea, has devised a temperature-responsive scaffold designed to release a ‘meaty flavour’ when the meat is cooked at high temperatures. 

This innovative scaffold incorporates a switchable flavour compound within a gelatin base. 

Upon heating to temperatures above 150 °C, the scaffold releases compounds that replicate the meaty aroma typically associated with grilled beef. 

The team has not yet tasted the meat; instead, they have used an electronic nose to chemically analyse the smell, confirming its similarity to the aroma of grilled beef.

The findings, published in Nature Communications, suggest that this flavour-switchable scaffold could significantly improve the taste of lab-grown meat. 

This scaffold remained stable during the cell culture period, ensuring that the flavour compounds were only released during cooking. 

This advancement could make lab-grown meat a more viable alternative to conventional meat by better mimicking the taste and aromatic properties of traditional meat.

The key to their success was replicating the Maillard reaction, a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives cooked meat its distinctive flavour.

While the current study marks a significant step forward, there are still hurdles to overcome before the technology can be commercialised. 

The researchers pointed out that the reagents used, such as methacrylic anhydride, are biocompatible but not yet approved for food use. 

Future work will focus on using food-grade chemicals to ensure the safety and viability of the flavour-switchable scaffold.