Fast food restaurants continue to take unconventional approaches to meat alternatives. One chain in particular has been very receptive to the idea—KFC. Now, it is thinking outside the box to create the world’s first lab-produced chicken nuggets.
As part of its “restaurant of the future” program, KFC is partnering with a Russian company called 3D Bioprinting Solutions to “print” chicken meat. The technique reportedly uses a combination of chicken cells and plant material to create the nuggets.
To Nugget or Not to Nugget
Chicken nuggets can already be pretty questionable. After all, what really goes inside a boot-shaped McDonald’s McNugget? No one really knows.
The idea of a 3D printed chicken nugget is perhaps even stranger. Regardless, KFC is diving into the project to see if it’s even possible.
The fast food chain intends to share its signature blend of herbs and spices with the Russian firm and supply it with breading for the chicken. It says this will help “achieve the signature KFC taste.”
Meanwhile, 3D Bioprinting Solutions seeks to replicate the taste and texture of real chicken. That might be possible since the technique does use animal materials. Although this means the nuggets won’t be vegetarian, it will make replicating the correct texture a lot easier.
For those who need a vegetarian nugget, KFC is working on other options. Last year, it became the first U.S. fast food chain to test out Beyond Meat’s plant-based chicken. During the trial run, the faux fried chicken sold out within hours.
In response, KFC plans on rolling out Beyond products at more of its locations this summer. It’s unclear whether COVID-19 will negatively affect those plans.
Perks of Printing
Many people might be disgusted by the idea of a 3D-printed chicken nugget. To be fair, it doesn’t sound very appetizing. However, it’s a far more sustainable way to get meat than raising and slaughtering chickens.
KFC cited a study by the American Environmental Science and Technology Journal that claims the benefits of using lab-grown meat include greenhouse gas emission reductions and lower energy consumption.
Co-founder of 3D Bioprinting Solutions, Yusef Khesuani, says, “3D bioprinting technologies, initially widely recognized in medicine, are nowadays gaining popularity in producing foods such as meat.”
He adds, “In the future, the rapid development of such technologies will allow us to make 3D-printed meat products more accessible and we are hoping that the technology created as a result of our cooperation with KFC will help accelerate the launch of cell-based meat products on the market.”
As Khesuani notes, 3D bioprinting initially found a foothold in the medical world. Researchers believe it will help humans print new transplant organs on-demand. The technique may also help print things like cartilage, bone, and skin graft materials. Still, that’s all at least a few years away.
Believe it or not, 3D-printed nuggets will be here earlier. KFC says that its bioprinted chicken nuggets are going to be available for final testing in Moscow this fall. It isn’t clear if that means customers will be able to sample them or if the taste testing will be delegated to insiders. Considering the nature of the project, the latter is probably more likely.