Henry Fountain, NYT:
“A hamburger made from cow muscle grown in a laboratory was fried, served and eaten in London on Monday in an odd demonstration of one view of the future of food.
According to the three people who ate it, the burger, which contained no fat or salt, was dry and a bit lacking in flavor. One taster, Josh Schonwald, a Chicago-based author, said “the bite feels like a conventional hamburger” but that the meat tasted “like an animal-protein cake.”
But taste and texture were largely beside the point: The event, arranged by a public relations firm and broadcast live on the Web, was meant to make a case that so-called in-vitro, or cultured, meat deserves additional financing and research. Proponents of the idea, including Mark Post, the Dutch researcher who created the hamburger at the University of Maastricht, say that lab-made meat could provide high-quality protein for the world’s growing population while avoiding most of the environmental and animal-welfare issues related to conventional livestock production.
Neil Stephens, a social scientist at Cardiff University in Wales who has studied the development of cultured meat and who attended the tasting, said the event generated a lot of interest. “The exciting thing will be to see the response,” he said.
Dr. Post, one of a handful of scientists working in the field, said there was still much research to be done and that it would probably take 10 years or more before cultured meat was commercially viable. Reducing costs is one major issue — he estimated that if production could be scaled up, cultured beef made as this one burger was made would cost more than $30 a pound.
The two-year project to make the one burger, plus extra tissue for testing, cost $325,000. On Monday it was revealed that Sergey Brin, one of the founders of Google, paid for the project. Dr. Post said Mr. Brin got involved because “he basically shares the same concerns about the sustainability of meat production and animal welfare.”
The meat was produced using stem cells — basic cells that can turn into tissue-specific cells — from cow shoulder muscle from a slaughterhouse. The cells were multiplied in a nutrient solution and put into small petri dishes, where they became muscle cells and formed tiny strips of muscle fiber. About 20,000 strips were used to make the 5-ounce burger, which contained breadcrumbs, salt, and some natural colorings as well.
The hamburger was fried — in a pan with copious amounts of butter — by an English chef and presented on a plate with a bun, lettuce and tomato slices to Dr. Post, Mr. Schonwald and Hanni Rützler, an Austrian food scientist. Pleas from the journalists and others in the audience for a bite were dismissed by Dr. Post, who said he did not have enough to go around…”
I am excited for the era of lab grown meat. I think it will be a huge breakthrough in ending cruelty and feeding a growing population. Kudos for Sergey to think forward enough to fund this experiment. I’ll be one of the first in line when this becomes more widely available.
As to the “ick factor” as they say – for me, much much less “ick” than the meat we currently eat.