What is “Cultured Oil”? (And Why Would We Need That?)

Zero Acre Farms, a Bay-area start-up, unveiled its proprietary product this week: cultured cooking oil. Meaning, the company grew oil-producing microbes in a fermentation tank to develop a cooking oil similar to vegetable oil, but without the negative environmental or health impacts.

The cultured oil has a high smoke point, and has a profile of 93 percent monosaturated fat, 4 percent saturated fat, and 3 percent saturated fat. It can be used for roasting, sautéing, stir-fries, and salad dressing.

Many cooking oils contribute to habitat destruction or soil erosion; palm oil being the most notorious as a major driver of deforestation in Malaysia and Indonesia. Seed oils can be grown with a high amount of chemical inputs (like pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides, etc.) which can erode the soil and disrupt surrounding ecosystems. Growing plants for oil of course requires land and water; cultured oil requires a fraction of that.

This is not to say all cooking oils are bad – many can be grown in a sustainable manner. However, there is a finite amount of land and water on Earth, so we simply cannot continue to expand crops to feed a rapidly growing population. That’s where lab-grown foods can make a difference – they require considerably less land and water.

One 16 oz bottle of Zero Acre Farms costs $29.99, but this price is expected to drop as the company scales.

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