That sizzling sound you heard this morning wasn't your usual rasher of breakfast bacon. The big thing cooking on Monday, August 5, was the world's first burger made from "cultured beef," grown in a lab from bovine stem cells. A burger isn't always 100 percent beef, of course, and such was the case with this historic patty. Today's serving also included salt, egg powder, and breadcrumbs, along with red beet juice and saffron to bring out its natural colors. The burger was cooked at an event in London.
This is Mark Post, a professor at Maastricht University in the Netherlands who developed the processes behind the cultured beef. "Our burger is made from muscle cells taken from a cow. We haven't altered them in any way," Post said in a statement. "For it to succeed it has to look, feel and hopefully taste like the real thing."
And by success, what Post and his team are looking toward is nothing less than solving "the coming food crisis" and combating climate change as the world's population heads toward 9 billion people by the middle of the century and as current livestock practices put a burden on the environment.
Sporting a crisp white lab jacket, Post participates in the cultivation of "in vitro meat." The first step in the process is to extract muscle stem cells from a particular animal -- in this case, a cow, but it could be done with pigs or chickens, too -- through a biopsy.
Also participating in the effort is food technician Peter Verstrate. In the lab, the muscle cells are placed in a nutrient solution and then grow into small strands of meat tissue. Some 20,000 such strands are needed to make one burger weighing about 140 grams (about 5 ounces), the researchers say.
Post (right, with Verstrate) launched the project to create an edible lab-grown hamburger in October 2011. His effort built off a study, concluded in 2009, that created tiny pieces of meat from the muscle stem cells of mice.
When you're looking to make history, you get out the good cookware. You might also point to the support of technology titans -- in this case, Google's Sergey Brin has thrown his weight behind the "in vitro meat" project. How come? "We have a vision in our minds of pristine farms, couple of cows, couple of chickens, but that's not actually how meat gets produced today," Brin said in an interview with The Guardian. "When you see how these cows are treated, it's certainly something I'm not comfortable with."
Chef Richard McGeown gets hands-on. So how was the burger? "I was expecting the texture to be more soft," said one of the designated tasters. "There's quite some intense taste, it's close to meat ... the consistency's perfect."