The fat could add authentic meat flavour to vegan alternatives [stock photo]

Pork fat made in a laboratory might not sound very appetising. But two childhood friends believe it is the key to revolutionising meat alternatives.

Biologist Max Jamilly and mathematician Ed Steele co-founded Hoxton Farms in 2020 via Zoom and spent lockdown experimenting. Unlike other lab-grown meat companies which make entire products, the pair are focusing on a fat substitute to be added to plant-based sausages and burgers.

They chose to focus on fat because, as Max says, “it is by far the most important sensory ingredient in all of the meat that we eat”. “When meat smells and sizzles and browns and tastes amazing, it’s because of fat. Pound for pound, it’s far more important for taste than muscle,” he added.

Max said the fats currently used in plant-based products, such as coconut oil, are not good enough, as they melt at room temperature, creating a greasy texture. At their facility in Old Street, East London, their scientists grow the fat from stem cell biopsies, taken from a live pig.

They then bathe cells in vats of warm broth of plant-based sugars, salts and proteins, which can convince the cells they are inside a pig. After the cells have multiplied for around four weeks, they are harvested.

They have been experimenting by layering plant protein and the fat to create a cruelty-free pork belly. The friends hope products will be approved first in the US and Singapore, which have already signed off other lab-grown meat.

“The way the world makes meat right now is broken,” Max added. “It does not make sense to use huge swathes of land and water, not to mention feed and antibiotics, to grow animals, only a small amount of whose bodies then become food for humans.”