LONDON – The food of the future could do with a pinch of seasoning, and maybe some cheese.
Two volunteers who took the first public bites of hamburger grown in a laboratory gave it good marks for texture but agreed there was something missing.
“I miss the salt and pepper,” said Austrian nutritionist Hanni Ruetzler. U.S. journalist Josh Schonwald confessed to a difficulty in judging a burger “without ketchup or onions or jalapenos or bacon.” Both tasters shunned the bun, lettuce and sliced tomatoes offered to them to concentrate on the flavor of the meat itself.
Mark Post, the Dutch scientist who led the team that grew the meat from cattle stem cells, regretted having served the patty without his favorite topping: aged gouda cheese.
“That would have enhanced the whole experience tremendously,” he said. He was pleased with the reviews: “It’s not perfect, but it’s a good start.”
Post, whose team at Maastricht University in the Netherlands developed the burger over five years, hopes that making meat in labs could eventually help feed the world and fight climate change – although that goal is probably a decade or two away, at best.
“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.”
Sergey Brin, a co-founder of Google, announced that he funded the $330,000 project, saying he was motivated by a concern for animal welfare.
Scientists agreed that improving the flavor probably won’t be hard.
“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, said Omholt, who was not involved in the project.
Post’s team made the meat from shoulder muscle cells of two organically raised cows. The cells were put into a nutrient solution to help them develop into muscle tissue, and they grew into small strands of meat.
It took nearly 20,000 strands to make a single 5-ounce patty, which for Monday’s event was seasoned with salt, egg powder and breadcrumbs. Red beet juice and saffron were added to help the burger look more meat-like; Post said the lab-made patty had a yellowish tinge.
Only one patty was cooked Monday, and the testers each took less than half of it. Post said he would take the leftovers home so his kids can have a taste.