Wed, Aug 07, 2013 - Page 7 News List

Synthetic hamburger gets full marks for ‘mouthfeel’

The Guardian, LONDON

A handout picture received via Ogilvy PR shows Maastricht University professor Mark Post holding the world’s first lab-grown beef burger in London on Monday.

Photo: AFP

All it took was a little butter and sunflower oil and, in less than 10 minutes, the world’s most expensive burger, grown from muscle stem cells in a lab, was ready to eat.

“I was expecting the texture to be more soft,” said Hanni Rutzler of the Future Food Studio, who researches food trends and was the first to get a taste of the synthetic beef hamburger at a lavish event in London on Monday that bore more resemblance to a TV set than a scientific press conference.

The lack of fat was noticeable, she said, which meant a lack of juiciness in the center of the burger.

However, if she had closed her eyes, she would definitely have thought the cultured beef was meat rather than a vegetable-based substitute.

The fibers had been grown in the lab and bound together, colored with beetroot juice and shot through with saffron to complete the burger that, from a distance at least, looked perfectly ordinary.

The chef tasked with cooking it was Richard McGeown of Couch’s Great House Restaurant in Polperro, Cornwall, who said it was slightly more pale than the beefburgers he was accustomed to, but that it cooked like any other burger, was suitably aromatic and looked inviting.

US food writer and author of the book Taste of Tomorrow Josh Schonwald was next up to take a piece of the precious burger.

Schonwald said he had never been pleased by meat substitutes, but after chewing a bit, gave it full marks for its “mouthfeel,” saying it was just like meat and that the bite felt like a conventional hamburger. However, he also pointed out several times the absence of fat or seasoning.

“I can’t remember the last time I ate a burger without ketchup,” he said, when trying to explain whether it compared well to a real hamburger.

Later in the tasting he described the texture as “like an animal protein cake.”

Mark Post, the scientist behind the burger, which took three months to make, said the goal was to improve the efficiency of the cell-growing process and also to improve flavor by adding fat cells.

He wants to create thicker “cuts” of meat such as steaks, though his would require more tissue engineering expertise, namely the ability to grow channels — a bit like blood vessels — that can feed the center of the growing steak with nutrients and water.

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