From lab-grown chicken to cricket-derived protein, these innovative alternatives offer hope for a planet struggling with the environmental and ethical impacts of industrial agriculture. Now, Korean scientists have added a new recipe to the list — cultured beef rice — by growing animal muscle and fat cells inside rice grains. Method, presented in the journal Feb. 14. CaseThe result is a nutritious and flavorful hybrid food that, once commercialized, could offer a more affordable protein alternative with a smaller carbon footprint.

“Imagine getting all the nutrients we need from cell-cultured protein rice,” says first author Sohyun Park, who conducted the study under the guidance of corresponding author Jinki Hong at Yonsei University in South Korea. Park says. “Rice already has a high nutrient level, but adding cattle cells can boost it even more.”

In animals, biological scaffolds guide and support the three-dimensional growth of cells to form tissue and organs. To grow cell-cultured meat, the team mimicked this cellular environment — using rice. Rice grains are porous and have organized structures, providing a solid scaffold for animal-derived cells in the nooks and crannies. Certain molecules found in rice can also promote the nutrition and growth of these cells, making rice an ideal platform.

The team first coated the rice with fish gelatin, a safe and edible ingredient that helps cells attach better to the rice. Cow muscle and adipose stem cells were then seeded in rice and left to culture for 9 to 11 days in a Petri dish. The final product harvested is a cell-cultured beef rice containing key ingredients that meet food safety requirements and reduce the risk of triggering food allergies.

To characterize the hybrid beef rice, the researchers boiled it and performed various food industry analyses, including nutritional value, odor and texture. The results revealed that hybrid rice has 8% more protein and 7% more fat than normal rice. Compared to the normal sticky and soft texture, the hybrid rice was stronger and more brittle. Hybrid rices with a higher muscle content have odor compounds similar to beef and almonds, while higher-fat rices contain compounds similar to cream, butter, and coconut oil.

“We usually get the protein we need, but producing livestock consumes a lot of resources and water and emits a lot of greenhouse gas,” says Park. The team’s products have a significantly smaller carbon footprint at a fraction of the cost. For every 100 grams of protein produced, hybrid rice is estimated to emit less than 6.27 kg of CO.2While beef leaves 49.89 kg. If commercialized, the price of hybrid rice could be around $2.23 per kilogram, compared to $14.88 for beef.

Given that hybrid meat rice has fewer food safety risks and the production process is relatively simple, the team is optimistic about commercializing the product. But before the rice reaches our stomachs, the team plans to create better conditions for both muscle and fat cells in the rice grain to thrive, further increasing its nutritional value.

“I didn’t expect the cells to grow so well in rice,” says Park. “Now I see a world of possibilities for this grain-based hybrid food. It could one day serve as food relief for famine, military rations, or even space food.”