Developed by Professor Mark Post of Maastricht University, the burger project cost £215,000 and was funded by Sergey Brin, co-founder of Google, who “shares the same concerns about the sustainability of meat production and animal welfare,” according to Post.
The burger was cooked up by chef Richard McGeown at a press conference on Monday, and sampled by food writer Josh Schonwald and food researcher Hanni Ruetzler.
“The mouthfeel is like meat,” Schonwald said. “I miss the fat, there’s a leanness to it, but the general bite feels like a hamburger. What was consistently different was flavour.”
Ruetzler added: “I was expecting the texture to be more soft… there is quite some intense taste; it’s close to meat, but it’s not that juicy. The consistency is perfect, but I miss salt and pepper. This is meat to me. It’s not falling apart.”
At such a prohibitive cost it will “take a while” for the burgers to be available in shops, Post said. “This is just to show we can do it. It’s a very good start,” he added.
Growing meat in a laboratory uses 45 per cent less energy, 96 per cent fewer greenhouse gases and 99 per cent less land than raising cows for beef, according to an independent study.
Explaining the reasons for developing the burger – which had originally been on the menu for October last year – Post commented: “I think most people don’t realise that current meat production is at its maximum, and it’s not going to supply sufficient meat for the growing demand in the coming 40 years, so we need to come up with an alternative, there’s no question. And this can be an ethical and environmentally friendly way to produce meat.”
However, Professor Tara Garnett, head of the Food Policy Research Network at Oxford University, sounded a note of caution about using technology to produce more food rather then reform iniquitous, unhealthy and unsustainable food systems.
“We have a situation where 1.4 billion people in the world are overweight and obese, and at the same time one billion people worldwide go to bed hungry,” she said. “That’s just weird and unacceptable.”