Sorawut Kittibanthorn, a design student at London’s Central Saint Martins art school, wants you to challenge what you think about using food waste in a novel way: By repurposing chicken feathers and turning them into a fascinating faux meat product.
According to CNN, Kittibanthorn was able to turn components of chicken feathers into meat substitutes that mimic both fish and beef. Humans can’t digest feathers as-is: they are mostly composed of keratin, a protein commonly found in nails and hair. But feathers also contain nutritious amino acids. Using a process called acid hydrolysis (mmm, hydrolysis), Kittibanthorn is able to transform the inedible into something you can actually eat.
He did this for his master’s project, and wants you to see the potential in a byproduct of chicken farming that results in around 200 million tons of feathers that are typically put in landfills or incinerated.
The process takes 13 steps. The feathers must be cleaned and pulverized, then placed in a water bath with acid and keratinase, an enzyme that cuts keratin’s chemical bonds. After being heated and stirred constantly for 12 to 24 hours, the mixture is filtered and cooled. The result is a flavorless protein that will need to be seasoned or flavored to suit whatever culinary purpose it will be serving.
Currently, a company called Bioextrax breaks down chicken feathers to create protein-rich animal feed. It uses microbe-based hydrolysis to break down the keratin. Bioextrax is also considering different ways to use feather byproducts, such as bioplastics and insulation. Right now the idea of actually having feather “meat” on your plate is pretty far away, considering hurdles like legislation, not to mention people’s perceptions of eating what amounts to chicken fur, but hey, if someone puts it in front of me I’ll take a bite and report back.