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Researchers put synthetic meat to the palate test

Posted on behalf of Richard Johnston.

The world’s first laboratory beef burger — a proof of concept after five years of research — was cooked and eaten today during a live press conference in London that doubled as a web-TV cookery programme.

Hanni Rützler, a food scientist, and Josh Schonwald, a writer, were the first to sample the cultured beef burger, but were not blown away by its taste, either positively or negatively. The texture was “crunchy and hot”, but didn’t have an intense meat flavour, and “it is a bit like cake”, Rützler said.

The chief creator of the artificial patties, Mark Post of Maastricht University in the Netherlands, was on hand as well, and said he feels so comfortable about the safety of the artificial food that he would feed it to his children. In fact, he said he planned to bring the leftovers from the event back home and have his kids taste them.

For now, the burgers are 100% lean, but Post said that his team is working on developing artificial fat tissue as well.

Post and his collaborators have been developing the rather unglamourously titled ‘in vitro meat’ for five years, perfecting the methodology to grow cattle muscle cells in the lab. The resulting beef burger does not come cheap: research and development costs exceeded €250,000 (US$332,000), which came mostly from philanthropic funders rather than from government or industry. Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, financed part of the research and the press launch, which included a video and animation highlighting the laboratory techniques and the rationale behind the project.

To make artificial beef, the scientists start with muscle cells from a living cow. They then feed the cells antibiotics and fetal bovine serum. This makes them multiply to create muscle tissue strands — around 20,000 strands were combined to make the burger. So far, a relatively small amount has been produced, and a full nutritional assessment has yet to be carried out.

The team behind the research aims to mitigate the impact that meat production has on the world. They describe a future with more sustainable synthetic beef that is made in the lab using less water, land and energy, and releasing less carbon dioxide and methane. They predict we could see cultured meats available commercially in the next 10–20 years.

Comments

  1. Report this comment

    Jean SmilingCoyote said:

    Thanks for telling readers the ulterior motive behind this expensive research. I wonder if people who are vegetarians only out of concern for various aspects of “meat production” will be interested in this product en masse. I am a bowhunter, and know that all the criticisms of the costs and harms of “meat production” apply only to domesticated animals. Whatever “costs” there are to wild game “production,” they do not go on the accounts of humankind. Nature produces them. We already know most of the taste of meat is in the fat. People who want less fat in their meats should eat wild game and non-domesticated animals such as bison. I wonder: if we eliminated all the “non-sustainable” elements and quantities in domesticated livestock production, how close would we come to the population which could be supported by wild game?

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    Shonagh MacRae said:

    What would cultured fat taste like? It must matter what the animal eats, so if cultured products are being fed on antibiotics and growth hormone what could the fat possibly taste like??? I can see this being a good choice for fast food meat but for people who are trying to eat naturally (wild game as Jean mentioned above) this is a tough sell.

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    Andrew Baker said:

    I used to eat meat, but quit it for moral reasons (See http://parley.us/morality-and-meat-eating/). But I still yearn for meat. If I hated meat and was vegetarian, would it make for a moral decision?

    Anyway, because I still want to eat meat, I completely welcome this new development. I’ll be the first to buy it once it’s available.

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