Franken-meat fails the taste test in world's first stem-cell grown burger

World' first beef burger created from stem cells and grown in lab is fried in public for testers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 06 August, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 06 August, 2013, 8:47am

The world's first beef burger created by stem cells tastes more like cake than steak.

The burger, fried in public in London yesterday, lacks the fattiness of regular meat and tastes more like "an animal-protein cake", said to Josh Schonwald, a Chicago-based author and one of two tasting volunteers.

The second tester, Austrian nutritionist Hanni Rützler, said: "It's close to meat. It's not that juicy. The consistency is perfect, but I miss salt and pepper!"

However, Mark Post, whose team at Maastricht University in the Netherlands developed the burger, said flavour was not their major concern, as that could be tweaked. "We are catering to beef eaters who want to eat beef in a sustainable way," Post said at the event in London yesterday.

Post said he was still working on the twin challenges of improving taste and growing fat. Commercial production could begin in a decade or two, said Post, whose work on cultured beef began in 2008.

Sergey Brin, a co-founder of Google, announced that he funded the €250,000 (HK$2.5 million) project because of his concern for animal welfare.

Post and his colleagues had tasted the meat in the laboratory, and he said they cooked a test burger on Sunday.

Only one patty was used for the taste test, and the testers each took less than half. Post said he would take the leftovers home and let his children have a taste.

Post and colleagues made the meat from the muscle cells of two organic cows. The cells were put into a nutrient solution to help them develop into muscle tissue, growing into small strands of meat.

It took nearly 20,000 strands to make a 140-gram patty, which for taste test was seasoned with salt, egg powder, breadcrumbs, red beet juice and saffron.

Post said Brin's team had come to him to back the project. "They had identified this technology as something that would fit their funding goals in terms of environment and animal welfare. They liked my approach and decided to fund it."

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) has thrown its support behind the lab-meat initiative.

"As long as there's anybody who's willing to kill a chicken, a cow or a pig to make their meal, we are all for this," said Ingrid Newkirk, PETA's president and co-founder. "Instead of the millions and billions [of animals] being slaughtered now, we could just clone a few cells to make burgers or chops."

Post told The Guardian, "Cows are very inefficient, they require 100g of vegetable protein to produce only 15g of edible animal protein. So we need to feed the cows a lot so that we can feed ourselves. We lose a lot of food that way. [With cultured meat] we can make it more efficient because we have all the variables under control. We don't need to kill the cow and it doesn't [produce] methane."

Bloomberg, Associated Press, The Guardian