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Researchers grow meat onto grains of rice

By YAN DONGJIE | China Daily | Updated: 2024-06-25 09:05

Chinese researchers have taken a bite-sized step toward the future of food with the development of "chicken rice" and "pork rice" — innovative dishes combining cell-cultured meat and staple grains.

The breakthrough, led by the China Meat Food Comprehensive Research Center and the Beijing Academy of Food Sciences, involves cultivating chicken and pork cells directly on rice and other crops.

"These dishes appear just like regular rice varieties — white, brown or purple," explained Wang Shouwei, the chief scientist behind the project. "But after cooking, they take on the aroma of both rice and meat."

Beyond taste, the technology offers exciting nutritional possibilities. "We can precisely control the content of protein, amino acids, fiber, carbs and other nutrients," Wang said. "This allows us to tailor these foods to specific dietary needs."

The key innovation lies in using rice as a "microcarrier scaffold". Traditionally, cell-cultured meat production relies on expensive, synthetic carriers.

"These carriers often raise food safety concerns and inflate production costs," Wang said. "Rice, on the other hand, provides a natural, edible alternative, rich in fiber and other beneficial nutrients."

The process involves pre-treating rice varieties to create a suitable environment for cell growth. For instance, "pork rice" is produced by cultivating separate batches of pork muscle and fat cells on modified rice grains. These are then combined to create the final product.

Professor Zhou Jingwen, from Jiangnan University, sees the development as a significant leap forward.

"Chicken rice and pork rice represent a new frontier in cell-cultured meat research, and China is poised to be a leader in this field," he said.

The research team is optimistic about achieving mass production in the near future.

Fitness coach Yao Xiangwei is intrigued by the potential. "High protein, high fiber and healthy carbs — that sounds perfect for people like me," he said. "Price will be a factor, but I'd definitely try it."

However, Yao acknowledges the need for public acceptance. "As a new concept, people will likely be curious but cautious," he said. "It might take some time for these 'cultivated' dishes to become mainstream."

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