A hamburger made from cow muscle grown in a laboratory was fried, served and eaten in London on Monday in a demonstration of one view of the future of food.
According to the three people who ate it, the burger was dry and a bit lacking in flavor. One taster, Josh Schonwald, a Chicago-based author of a book on the future of food, said that "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 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.
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.
The meat was produced using stem cells — basic cells that can turn into tissue-specific cells — from cow shoulder muscle from a slaughterhouse.
The meat, which contained no fat, was fried — in a pan with copious amounts of butter — and presented on a plate with a bun, lettuce and tomato slices to Post, Schonwald and Hanni Rutzler, an Austrian food scientist.
Post said he was "very happy" with the 5-ounce burger after tasting it, though he acknowledged that the lack of fat was a problem. "We're working on that," he said.