LONDON — After years of research and weeks of buildup, taste testers on Monday finally bit into a burger created from stem cells in a culture dish rather than meat from a farm or a store.
The burger was cooked in front of reporters and taste-tested by Chicago-based author and food writer Josh Schonwald and Austrian food researcher Hanni Rutzler.
Although they struggled to decide whether they liked the taste, both were pleasantly surprised at the texture and juicyness given the absence of natural fats.
"It wasn't unpleasant," said Schonwald.
"There is quite some intense flavor," Rutzler said, although she added that it needed seasoning. "The look was quite similar to meat. It has quite a bite."
She added: "The surface of the meat was crunchy — surprisingly. The taste itself was as juicy as meat can be, but different. It tastes like meat, not a meat substitute like soya or whatever."
Funded by Google co-founder
Monday's high-profile tasting at West London's Riverside Studios, broadcast online via streaming video, served as the public unveiling for a strain of "cultured beef" developed by University of Maastricht physiologist Mark Post. He declared the taste test a success.
"I'm very excited. It took a long time to get this far," said Post. "I think this is a very good start. I'm very happy with it."
Aided by a €250,000 ($330,000) donation from Google co-founder and entrepreneur Sergey Brin, Post has been working since 2008 to produce a palatable food product from lab-grown muscle cells. He and other scientists involved in similar projects aren't doing it just for the novelty. They see test-tube meat as a means to head off what could become a global food crisis.
Video: Using cattle stem cells and other ingredients, a group of scientists is working to convince the world that a more environmentally friendly meat is needed and can be made in the lab. NBC’s Keir Simmons reports and Dr. Mark Post, one of the scientists working on the project, discusses its importance.
Meat production already requires more than half of the world's estimated agricultural capacity, and experts say that proportion is expected to grow dramatically in the decades ahead, due to a demand for meat fueled by rising affluence in China and other parts of the world. Studies have shown that lab-grown meat production methods can be more energy-efficient and result in lower greenhouse-gas emissions than conventional livestock farming. Artificial meat would also eliminate the need to raise and slaughter billions of farm animals.
Post's method still requires cattle, to contribute stem cells as well as the fetal calf serum that feeds the muscle cells. But the cells can be extracted from live cattle during a biopsy. Post says one sample could be used to create up to 20,000 tons of cultured beef.
Still it sounds yuck to me