Lab-grown fruit cultures could yield new superfoods

Dive Brief:

  • Finnish scientists have produced nutritious and flavorful plant cell cultures from fresh fruits, paving the way for new lab-grown superfood ingredients, Nutrition Insight reports.
  • The cultured plant cells were produced from lingonberry, cloudberry and stoneberry, and were found to have even higher nutritional value than fresh berries. The researchers, from Finland’s VTT Technical Research Center, said the cultures were higher in protein and fiber, and were also rich in polyphenols and unsaturated fatty acids.
  • The researchers claim the cultures taste like fresh fruits, and could be used in fresh or dried form to make caviar-like fruit compotes, smoothies and snack foods.

Dive Insight:

Like lab-grown meat, the promise of creating food without the need for agriculture is tantalizing. Humans have now cultivated most of the world’s arable land, and are reaching the limits of available fresh water. Proposed strategies to increase food production include eating less meat and animal products and improvements in crop productivity. But feeding a global population due to hit nine billion by 2050 will not be easy.

The Finnish researchers behind the fruit cell cultures have already made strides in producing viable, nutrient-dense varieties. Their earlier efforts— although nutritious — resulted in a bland-tasting product, so improved flavor brings cultured foods closer to something that could be acceptable to consumers. The futuristic technology could be enough to turn off some consumers, so if it also has no flavor or tastes bad, these fruit cell cultures are all but doomed.

The technology is still far from replacing traditionally grown fruits and vegetables due to the cost associated with culturing and maintaining the cells, as well as the limits of how fast they can replicate. Still, if the developers are able to overcome these obstacles and increase yields, it may become possible to tweak the nutrient content in cultured fruits and vegetables — creating new lab-grown superfoods that are nutritionally superior to ordinary fruits and vegetables.

Eventually, the technology could even transform the idea of locally sourced fruits and vegetables. Researchers have already created a prototype plant cell incubator for home use that produces a harvest within a week. As consumers become more familiar and accepting of the concept of cell-cultured beef, poultry and even fish, they will likely be primed to accept lab-grown plants, which have much less of an ick factor.

Tyson Ventures, the venture capital arm of Tyson Foods, purchased a minority interest in Memphis Meats in January, which the startup plans to use to more quickly develop products and expand its stable of chefs, scientists, and creative and business teams. As research on lab-grown fruit cultures advances, it wouldn’t be a surprise to also see the technology attract the financial support of a big CPG company looking to grab a stake in the space.