This Startup Wants You to Eat Ground-Up Chicken Bones

We’re living in the Age of Chicken. Geologically speaking, that is. There are about 23 billion chickens alive on Earth at any one time. Gather them all together and their combined mass would exceed that of all other birds on the planet. With more than 66 billion birds killed each year, their fossilized bones may leave behind a record that outlasts human existence. In 2018, a group of scientists argued that the broiler chicken (Gallus gallus domesticus) should be considered as much an indicator of the Anthropocene Epoch as those other trappings of modern human existence: plastics, concrete, and the deposits left behind by burning fossil fuels.And the Gallocene—if that’s what you want to call it—is gathering speed. Fifty years ago, poultry made up about 15 percent of all the world’s meat. Now that fraction has ballooned to more than 36 percent, while the share of beef halved over the same period. Plant-based and cultured meats might be feeding our imaginations, but cheap, industrially farmed chicken meat has captured our dinner plates.

The pursuit of a never-ending supply of low-cost lean protein has turned chickens into meat machines. Today’s chickens have been bred and fed to grow five times fatter than their mid-century ancestors—putting on weight so quickly that their organs can’t keep up and death rates soar if the birds are kept alive much past six weeks. The majority of the world’s chickens are reared in industrial farms, which again drives down costs at the expense of animal welfare.

Now a Finnish startup says it has come up with a new way to squeeze more meat out of a single chicken. All it takes is a little ground-up bone. In a small pilot plant in the Finnish city of Kotka, the founders of SuperGround have figured out how to process chicken bones so they can be incorporated into ground chicken products like nuggets or meatballs. It might sound a little gross, but the startup’s founders point out that using more of the bird lowers the environmental footprint of every pound of meat and drives the cost of it down at a time when chicken prices are soaring.Here’s how the process works, according to SuperGround chair and cofounder Tuomas Koskinen. A mixture of vegetable protein and chicken bones with some meat attached is heat-shocked and then passed through an extruder to create a bone-vegetable-meat blend that can be mixed with ground chicken meat. “The bone becomes virtually indistinguishable from other components under a microscope, and using a microscope alone the different components cannot be identified,” says Koskinen. The end result is nuggets and other ground chicken products that can incorporate between 5 and 30 percent of the bone-containing mass. Adding any more bone into the mix makes it difficult to extrude through the meat-making machines.This might not sound particularly appetizing, but Koskinen points out that plenty of people enjoy eating bone marrow and that chicken bones are already a key ingredient in stock. In late May, Koskinen and SuperGround founder Santtu Vekkeli took their meat to IFFA—the meat industry’s largest trade fair—in Frankfurt. The response from people who tried their chicken kebabs was positive, Koskinen says. “They find it hard to believe that there’s actual bone in it.”