Photo: Memphis Meats

San Francisco-based startup company Memphis Meats announced that it has successfully produced chicken strips made from cultured animal cells, marking another step toward the journey to “clean meat.”

The company offered deep-fried chicken strip samples, along with dishes of Duck à l'Orange, also created from animal cells in the lab, to a panel of taste testers last week. According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, the tasters commented that the fried chicken strip maintained the flavor of traditionally-grown chicken, but the texture was “spongier” than regular chicken breast.

“It is thrilling to introduce the first chicken and duck that didn’t require raising animals. This is a historic moment for the clean meat movement,” stated Uma Valeti, M.D., co-founder and CEO of Memphis Meats, in an announcement.

The Memphis Meats team produced the chicken and duck by harvesting cells from livestock, and identified cells that were capable of self-renewal. Those cells were cultured in a lab and provided nutrients to encourage growth. They multiplied over the course of four to six weeks, and were then ready to be prepared and consumed.

The company unveiled the world’s first “clean meatball” in February 2016 using the same process, but switched gears to also focus on chicken and duck as they are both popular sources of meat throughout the world.

Chicken is the most consumed meat in America, and 6 billion pounds of duck are consumed in China each year.

A number of companies and research teams have been experimenting with lab-grown meat development in recent years. Laboratory Equipment previously reported on the potential benefits, as well as the challenges that still remain in making these lab-grown products available to consumers on a large scale.

In 2013, Mark Post and colleagues at Maastricht University made headlines by creating the first lab-grown hamburger patty. But similar to Memphis Meats, the biggest hurdles are replicating taste and texture, and drastically reducing costs to reach the consumer level. The burger patty cost $300,000 to make at the time.

One pound of Memphis Meat chicken currently costs about $9,000 to make. While significantly cheaper than its “clean meatball” which was $18,000 to produce, it is still a steep cost compared to the $3 and change per pound consumers have become accustomed to for traditionally-grown chicken.

If companies can find ways to make cultured meats affordable, the technique could generate up to 96 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than conventionally produced meat, according to a previous Oxford University study.

Memphis Meats has a target date of 2021 to launch its products to consumers.