Published December 28, 2016
The world’s first test-tube hamburger, and likely also the world’s most expensive, was served in London on Monday.
The 5oz beef burger was made from meat grown in a laboratory, rather than cattle raised in pastures.
The two volunteers who offered their taste buds to the experimental patty said that it had the texture of meat but was short of flavor because of the lack of fat.
"I would say it's close to meat. I miss the salt and pepper," said Austrian nutritionist Hanni Ruetzler, one of the volunteer tasters. Both shunned the bun and sliced tomatoes to concentrate on the meat.
"The absence is the fat, it's a leanness to it, but the bite feels like a conventional hamburger," said U.S. journalist Josh Schonwald. He added that he had rarely tasted a hambuger, as he did on Monday, "without ketchup or onions or jalapenos or bacon."
Mark Post, University of Maastricht professor in Holland and leader in the experiment, said it's crucial that the burger has the "look, feel and taste like the real thing."
Despite the tasters’ concern about flavor, scientists say that can be tweaked.
"Taste is the least (important) problem since this could be controlled by letting some of the stem cells develop into fat cells," said Stig Omholt, director of biotechnology at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. Adding fat to the burgers this way would probably be healthier than getting it from naturally chunky cows, Omholt said before Monday's test. He was not involved in the project.
The dollar value of this "Frankenburger" is staggering, with the costs to produce the prototype around $382,500.
The burger was created Post’s team using the stem cells stripped from the muscles of a cow.
It took nearly 20,000 strands to make a single 140-gram (5-ounce) patty, which for Monday's taste test was seasoned with salt, egg powder, breadcrumbs, red beet juice and saffron.
From start to finish, the entire process from stem cell to supermarket shelf takes around six weeks.
Despite the length and cost, Prost said he believes the research could help meet the global demand for protein without the need for vast herds of cattle.
“Right now, we are using 70 percent of all our agricultural capacity to grow meat through livestock,” Prost told The Independent June 28. “You are going to need alternatives. If we don’t do anything meat will become a luxury food and will become very expensive.”
According to the Daily Mail, Prost’s research was funded by a businessman who is likely to be the first person to try the “artificial” burger.
Before any type of artificial meat could be sold to the public, it would need to meet The Food Standards Agency’s approval.
According to a spokeswoman for the agency, manufacturers would have to prove all the necessary safety tests had been carried out.
"In vitro or cultured meat is not yet commercially viable, but the technology used to produce cultured meat could be advanced enough for trials to take place. Any novel food, or food produced using a novel production process, must undergo a stringent and independent safety assessment before it is placed on the market," the spokesperson told the Independent.
Even if the meat is approved by The Food Standards Agency, it's likely that it won’t be widely available until the ingenuity wears off.
"The first (lab-made) meat products are going to be very exclusive," said Isha Datar, director of New Harvest, an international nonprofit that promotes meat alternatives. "These burgers won't be in Happy Meals before someone rich and famous is eating them."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.