herald

Thursday 17 August 2017

It looks like a burger and feels like a burger. But for €250k, does laboratory meat taste like a burger?

MEATY: Hanni Rutzler tastes the first lab-made burge
MEATY: Hanni Rutzler tastes the first lab-made burge
The first lab-made burger

THEY bit, they chewed, but had hoped for more flavour.

Two volunteers who participated in the first public frying of a hamburger grown in a lab said that it had the texture of meat but was short of flavour because of the lack of fat.

Mark Post, whose team at Maastricht University in the Netherlands developed the burger, hopes that making meat in labs could eventually help feed the world and fight climate change. That goal is many years distant, at best.

Sergey Brin, a co-founder of Google, appeared on a video shown at the event and announced that he funded the €250,000 project because of his concern for animal welfare.

"I would say it's close to meat. I miss the salt and pepper," said nutritionist Hanni Ruetzler, one of the volunteers. Both shunned the bun and sliced tomatoes to concentrate on the meat.

LEANNESS

"The absence is the fat, it's a leanness to it, but the bite feels like a conventional hamburger," said journalist Josh Schonwald. He added he rarely tasted a hambuger "without ketchup or onions or jalapenos or bacon."

The test, coming after five years of research, is a key step toward making lab meat a culinary phenomenon. Post called it "a good start".

"We're trying to create the first cultured beef hamburger. From there I'm optimistic we can really scale by leaps and bounds," he said on the video.

Post said it's crucial that the burger has the "look, feel and taste like the real thing" and that flavour 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. He was not involved in the project.

NUTRIENT

Post and colleagues made the meat from the muscle cells of two organic cows. The cells were put into a nutrient solution to help them develop into muscle tissue, growing into small strands of meat. It took nearly 20,000 strands to make a single 5oz patty, which for the test was seasoned with salt, egg powder, breadcrumbs, red beet juice and saffron.

"I'm a vegetarian, but I would be first in line to try this," said Jonathan Garlick, a researcher at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine in Boston.

He has used similar techniques to make human skin but wasn't involved in the burger research.

Experts say new ways of producing meat are needed to satisfy growing carnivorous appetites without exhausting resources.

hnews@herald.ie

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