Chicken nuggets usually get a pretty bad rap. Whether they're filled with mystery meat or come with a mouthful of additives, they also involve slaughtering an animal. But the nugget I'm about to eat from San Francisco-based Just was grown in a lab, using cells taken from a living chicken. It's cultured meat (and cruelty-free).
Carnivores, breathe a sigh of relief.
Unlike entirely plant-based products such as the Impossible Burger, the Just chicken nugget is actual meat.
Cultured meat, also called lab-grown or clean meat, starts with the collection of cells, usually done through a biopsy so the animals aren't harmed. Just says it has also been able to get cells from a chicken feather. The most viable cells are chosen and then given the right nutrients they need to grow in a bioreactor. In the case of this chicken nugget, those nutrients are plant-based.
Not only does cultured meat avoid sacrificing animals, it could take fewer resources to produce than traditional livestock. Around 14.5 of the world's greenhouse gas emissions are from livestock, according to a report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. But one study questions how environmentally friendly clean meat products could be if the process is energy intensive.
Just's cultured chicken product takes around two weeks to grow in a bioreactor. The team of chefs plays a major part in creating the product once the scientists have developed the biology. "They are really the ones that can assemble everything and come up with the ideal ratios of cell types," says Vitor Santo, director of cellular agriculture.
So what does it actually taste like? The crunch from the breading and the smell from the fry was exactly what I expected from a good chicken nugget. But I was pleasantly surprised at how similar the cultured chicken itself tasted compared to the real deal, even if it didn't look like your typical KFC or McDonald's nugget. You can watch the video to find out more.
Just's next cultured meat product will be wagyu beef. Several other companies are also developing clean meat derived from animal cells, like Memphis Meats (chicken and duck) and SuperMeat (also chicken).
If you're hankering to try your own cultured chicken nugget, you'll have to hold tight a little longer. The nugget needs to get USDA and FDA approval in the US, but Just says it'll first be available in selected high-end restaurants in Asia later this year once it gets regulatory approval.