Why we made a mammoth meatball

George Peppou
2 min readMar 28, 2023
The meatball, in the flesh

Today we introduced the Mammoth Meatball, a project 5,000 years in the making.

Forged by Vow, in collaboration with Naturalis and Wunderman Thompson, have created a unique meatball made with a protein from the long extinct wooly mammoth.

But why the mammoth meatball, you might ask?

The world’s population is expected to hit 10 billion by 2050, meaning we don’t have long to work out how to scale our food system. And as meat demand continues to rise all over the world, we need to rethink our current food system –now — and explore new possibilities for how we can meet our nutritional needs without relying on more factory farming.

That’s where Vow comes in. For the past four years, we have been on a mission to invent entirely new meats that meat eaters choose selfishly. We want to create delicious, satisfying, and sustainable meat alternatives that are cultured with a fraction of the land and energy.

That’s why we created the mammoth meatball, to serve as a starting point for this conversation.

It’s a bold and exciting experiment that challenges us to think outside the box and imagine a future where meat consumption can be so different from what we know today.

Creating the mammoth meatball was no small undertaking. It required over 20 billion cells, grown on a surface area of over 100m2 (likely similar to the footprint of your local cafe). We started by identifying a protein believed to be important for the color and flavor of meat — myoglobin.

Then, we used a publicly available database to identify the gene sequence for mammoth myoglobin. Unfortunately, there were a number of gaps, but we filled these gaps using the myoglobin sequence from the African elephant (the woolly mammoth’s closest living relative). From there, we inserted the mammoth myoglobin gene into some sheep cells and started growing the cells for the mammoth meatball.

Now, we know that change won’t happen overnight, but Vow is excited to be part of this movement towards a more sustainable food future. They believe that the mammoth meatball is just the beginning of a conversation about what meat could be, and they’re eager to work together to create a brighter future for ourselves and the planet. So, let’s start talking about it!