£220,000 lab-grown burger is eaten for first time - but needed ketchup

Date:06-08-2013 07:58:05 read:5

£220,000 lab-grown burger is eaten for first time - but needed ketchup

The world’s most expensive beefburger, the first to be grown entirely in a laboratory, needed ketchup but tasted "like meat", according to the first two people to eat the artificially produced burger.

The artificial meat has been painstakingly grown from stem cells in a laboratory Photo: PA

The £220,000 test-tube burger was fried in a pan and served to two food experts by a chef.

The burger, which took 3 months to grow, had a "bite" and texture like real meat, according to the two volunteer tasters, but they struggled to des tube the flavour, suggesting it was a bit bland.

It has raised hopes that laboratory grown food could provide a new way of producing food.

As a publicity stunt the cooking of the world's first lab grown beef burger appeared to be a success, but as a potential food source it still has a long way to go.

With no fat in the burger, it tasted more like an "animal protein cake" somewhere between a soy based meat substitute and a burger from fast food restaurant, according to Josh Schonwald, a food writer.

He said: "It lacks flavour. It has a middling flavour, like pasta or an animal protein cake. It wasn't unpleasant.

"It has been a while since I ate a burger without ketchup or onions or jalapeños or bacon.

"The texture was definitely familiar as meat though. It lacks fat and has leanness to it. The flavour was conpiciously different as it didn't have that fat and spice."

Scientists behind the project, which is aimed at finding a sustainable alternative to farmed beef, pork or chicken, have spent almost six years developing the technology needed to create the burger.

They grew 20,000 strands of muscle, each the size of a grain of rice, from stem cells taken from the shoulder muscle of a cow to produce enough meat for the burger.

The resultant meat, however, is far from being perfected - it took some effort for Hanni Rutzler, a food scientist from Germany who also tasted the meat, to cut the burger, suggesting it was a little tough.

Her initial reaction was somewhat muted and she bowed her head as she chewed.

"I was expecting the texture to be more soft," she said. "There is definitely a bite to it. I didn't know how juicy it would be, but it is close to meat, but it is not that juicy.

"It tastes like meat to me and it looks similar. I think we should try it again with some salt and pepper."

The lab-grown beef is almost white in colour when it comes out of the laboratory and has little flavour.

The researchers worked for months to give the burger a realistic colour by adding beetroot juice and saffron.

They added breadcrumbs and egg powder to give it some more taste and help hold it together.

The scientist behind the lab-grown burger, or “cultured beef” as he prefers to call it, first began work on the project in 2008.

Professor Mark Post, a tissue engineer at Maastricht University, decided to adapt technology being used by researchers who were hoping to use stem cells to repair the human body.

Instead he claims such technology could help solve the impending food crisis as developing countries begin to consume more and more meat.

Twenty years ago, the Chinese ate less than a tenth of the amount of meat per person than those in the US.

Currently in Britain, a person eats around 187lbs of meat a year, which translates approximately into 33 chickens, one pig, three-quarters of a sheep and a fifth of a cow.

If everyone in the world wanted to eat that amount of meat, then almost evry acre of land would need to be turned over to livestock and the growth of their food.

Professor Post insists that synthetic meat would need 99 per cent less land than livestock, between 82 and 96 per cent less water.

But he estimates that it has cost around £220,000 to produce the burger, following a private donation from a wealthy but secretive benefactor.

The meat is grown by harvesting stem cells from the muscle of living cows before these are placed into a nutrient rich broth to encourage them to grow.

The cells for this burger were obtained from a Blanc Blue Belge cow in Belgium and from a Blond Acquitaine cow.

The cells were then grown on a gel like substance to form pellets of meat around a third of an inch long.

The muscle was able to contracted and relaxed in the same way as it would in a real animal.

These strips of meat were then frozen before enough had been grown to combine into a single burger.

Professor Post said he expected the cost of producing meat in this way to come down as the process is perfected and industrialised.

He estimates that commercial production of test-tube grown meat could begin in around 10 to 20 years time.

However, there is still a lot of work to be done before it can get to that stage.

He said: “I think eventually we will be able to replicate all the different cuts from an animal but that is going to take a long time.

"It is my ambition that we an produce thicker piers of meat like a steak but this is some way off.

"We are working on extracting the fat cells, which will give it more flavour, but this is more complicated. We hope to do that in the next month or so.

"It is as safe as regular beef because in the end, it is regular beef. There should be no additional safety concerns and if anything we can probably make it safer than regular beef."

The Food Standards Agency, which regulates new foods in the UK, said that any test-tube grown meat would need to go through rigorous safety tests before it could be sold in shops.

They also insist that the product would need to be nutritionally equivalent to existing meat. They have yet to receive an application of any trials to test the meat as food.

Other scientists have given the lab-grown beef burger a cautious welcome.

Dr Sandra Stringer, a senior microbiologist at the Institute of Food Research, said: “We can see no reasons why this product would be less safe than conventional meat - it is likely that it will be produced in sterile conditions, and so could be much less prone to microbial contamination.”

Professor Chris Mason, a stem cell expert at University College London, added that producing affordable laboratory grown meat could also lead to advances that would benefit patients.

He said: “Cultured meat is great pioneering science with the potential to significantly impact on many of today’s global challenges including human health, climate change, and animal welfare.

“Whilst the science looks achievable, the scalable manufacturing will require new game-changing innovation.

A decent size joint of beef is approaching a trillion cells, and that’s just one family meal.

“The current cost of manufacturing cell therapies is thousands/ten of thousands of pounds per treatment, orders of magnitude greater than the price of even the best quality steak.

“A paradigm shift in the scalable production of living cell products would therefore be a major win for both cultured meat and regenerative medicine.

“To put the manufacturing challenge into perspective, over the past 25 years, the total number of human cells grown in culture as regenerative medicines is far less than the number of cells in the beef produced from just one single cow.”

Dr Iain Brassington, a bioethicist, at the centre for social ethics and policy at the University of Manchester, said: “While the sight of someone eating a very expensive burger is clearly something of a publicity stunt, the underlying idea behind laboratory-grown meat is sound.

“Meat-eating is morally problematic, and many people are – or think they should be – vegetarian as a result.

“All around the world, demand for meat is increasing, and is probably unsustainable.

“At the same time, many carnivores are guilty carnivores: they know that meat-eating is problematic, but like it too much to give it up.

“Lab grown meat offers the chance of supplying the world with the food it wants, but with a minimised moral cost.”

    Ever For Health Copy Rights 2013