More than a year in the making and bankrolled by none other than Sergey Brin: Here you go, the first public taste test of lab-grown meat. Insert stem cells from a cow into a nutrient broth, add a little electricity, mince the individual muscle strands that have formed (you’ll need 20,000 for a patty) and voila — you’ve got Frankenburger. A grayish-white Frankenburger, to be specific; they’ve added beet juice and saffron for coloring to reduce the “ew” factor.
Lots of benefits here potentially. Mass production would mean a bonanza of protein for hungry Earthlings with no fear of depleting the supply of livestock. It’s more efficient than the traditional method too, since cows require lots of vegetation and lots of pasture land for a comparatively small yield of meat. And if you’re vegetarian and refuse to eat flesh for ethical reasons, you can go ahead and dig in now. But all of that hinges on one thing: How does it taste? A burger grown in a lab can’t possibly be as delicious as a cow cut, can it? If I had to guess after reading about it, I would have guessed that it’s somewhere between a veggie burger and one of McDonald’s famously indestructible lean patties.
Verdict: Yep, pretty much.
“There is a leanness to it,” food writer Schonwald said. “The absence of fat is what makes it taste different.”
“I would say it is somewhere on the spectrum between a Boca Burger [soy burger brand] and McDonald’s,” he added. “The absence of fat makes a big difference. It has the texture, which I was not expecting. It was like an animal-protein cake.”
The scientist leading the project thinks it may be 10-20 years before “cultured meat” hits the market. No word yet on how it’ll compare price-wise to the real thing but, given its green benefits, I smell a big subsidies push when the time comes. As for vegetarians, they’re excited — sort of:
“I don’t need to [try it],” [PETA chief Ingrid] Newkirk told NBC News. “Any flesh food is totally repulsive to me. But I am so glad that people who don’t have the same repulsion as I do will get meat from a more humane source. This gets rid of the yuck factor.”
Post has said he spent $325,000 developing the burger, made using engineered muscle stem cells grown in a broth made from a calf blood product.
That’s enough to repel Liz O’Neill, a spokeswoman for the Vegetarian Society. ”It is not an animal-free food yet,” says O’Neill, who adds her group wasn’t invited to Monday’s tasting.
It’s not kosher either, according to a rabbi who spoke to NBC, unless the source of the stem cells is a cow that was ritually slaughtered, which would defeat the purpose of growing meat in the lab. No worries, though: Any culture that’s strong enough to resist bacon will do fine without the Frankenburger. Exit question: If Ray Kurzweil’s right about the Singularity being near, shouldn’t we expect supercomputer-designed healthy chocolate packed with nutrients to form the bulk of our diets in 20 years, not this? C’mon, food industry. Aim high.