The Lowdown: KFC's hybrid nuggets

By James McAllister

- Last updated on GMT

The Lowdown: KFC's hybrid chicken nuggets Russia cultured meat 3D Bioprinting Solutions

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KFC has collaborated with a biotech research lab in the Russian capital of Moscow to develop a hybrid nugget made from a combination of cultured chicken cells and plant-based ingredients.

Cultured you say?
Don’t let your imagination get ahead of you. KFC isn’t playing Tchaikovsky to a room full of petri dishes, or reading them extracts from Tolstoy’s War and Peace. ​No, we’re talking about cultured meats, as in a meat-based product that is produced via the culturing of animal cells, rather than from their slaughter. 

So it’s lab-grown meat… that doesn’t exactly sound finger licking good
Sure, not when you put it like that. But this could prove to be a huge milestone in bringing alternative, meat-based products to the consumer market.  

How are the nuggets being created?
Using what is known as an extrusion-based ‘bioprinter’. Yusef Khesuani, co-founder of 3D Bioprinting Solutions (the Muscovite research lab where the nuggets are being developed), tells BigHospitality​’s sister publication FoodNavigator​ ​that the technology prints ‘bottom-up’ in a way that is similar to a 3D printer of plastics. The bioprinter prints onto a support material known as a ‘scaffold’, which allows cells to grow and form a 3D tissue. The lab alternates between printing layers of chicken cells and plant-based ingredients until the entire nugget is printed.

Doesn’t sound appealing to be honest
The nuggets should theoretically taste no different to what you’re used to. 3D Bioprinting Solutions is using its own proprietary, plant-based medium to feed the cells. KFC is responsible for adding breading and spices ‘to achieve the signature KFC taste’. The finished nugget will be made from roughly 80% plant-based material (ingredients to be disclosed at launch) and 20% cell-based. If the partnership is successful and KFC brings the nuggets to market, it’ll become the world’s first vendor to serve a hybrid cell-based and plant-based product. 

What’s the point of opting to produce meat products this way rather than through traditional agriculture?
According to the partnership, bio-printed meat, or ‘biomeat’, has several advantages. Number one, biomeat has exactly the same microelements as the original product, minus the ‘various additives’ used in traditional livestock farming. Number two, lab-grown meat is also considered to be more ethical, as no animals are harmed in the process. And from an environmental perspective, some say production methods produce fewer carbon emissions than conventional meat.

Are there other companies looking to serve similar hybrids?
Absolutely. Khesuani estimates that at least 30 companies – a combination of start-ups and larger players – are working on cultured meat products globally. Some of the bigger names include Mosa Meat in the Netherlands; Aleph Farms in Israel; and the US-based Eat JUST. 

When can we expect to see these hybrid nuggets entering the market then?
No country has yet approved cultured meat for consumption, which is a major hurdle facing all lab-grown meat businesses. With rigorous safety assessments expected in each country, regulatory approval could take many years. 3D Bioprinting Solutions says it aims to have a final product for testing by the autumn, and hopes to kick off the regulatory process in Russia next year. Whether the nuggets ever make it to the UK remains to be seen, of course… but they could prove to be great back up if DHL ever has another one of its delivery meltdowns. 

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