Now even coffee doesn’t have to come from nature. In another advance of cellular agriculture, the first batches of coffee “cells” have been produced in a bioreactor by VTT Technical Research Centre, a public research institute owned by the government of Finland.
“The innovation can help to make the production of coffee more sustainable,” the institute said in a news release. “The first batches produced by VTT in a laboratory in Finland smell and taste like conventional coffee.”
Coffee is one of the foods that have been in short supply and seen increased costs this year. Both of those points may only get worse with increasing demand and numerous sustainability challenges concerning traditional coffee agriculture. More acreage required to produce enough coffee beans often leads to deforestation – particularly in sensitive rainforest areas.
Similar to the technologies used in replicating animal-based products like meats and milk, coffee cell cultures floating in bioreactors filled with a nutrient medium begin replicating. After analyses of the biomass, a roasting process was developed, and the new coffee was evaluated by VTT’s trained sensory panel. The process required input from several disciplines and experts in the fields of plant biotechnology, chemistry, and food science.
“At VTT, this project has been part of our overall endeavor to develop the biotechnological production of daily and familiar commodities that are conventionally produced by agriculture,” says Dr. Heiko Rischer, leader of the research team. “For this, we use many different hosts, such as microbes, but also plant cells.”
Currently all coffee material produced in laboratory conditions represents experimental food and would require regulatory approval by the FDA to be marketed and sold to consumers in the U.S. In Europe, the lab-grown coffee should first be approved as Novel Food before being marketed.