"I was expecting the texture to be more soft," Austrian food researcher Hanni Rutzler said about a new burger created in the Netherlands. "It's not that juicy." American journalist Josh Shonwald, the other person to test the product, noticed that "the absence is the fat". He added: "But the bite feels like a conventional hamburger. What was conspicuously different was flavor."
They described the taste of the new Dutch burger at a live presentation in London on August 5, where this food product was prepared for the first time ever with some butter and a little sunflower oil. New food products are tested before they appear on the market all the time, and this burger apparently had pros and cons — it was just not that juicy and had a really different flavor, but was low in fat.
Sounds interesting so far, right? But what is truly revolutionary about the new burger — dubbed the Googleburger — it that it's not meat, exactly. It's not vegetarian either, though.
The created of the burger, lead researcher Mark Post from the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands, described the project as a "proof of concept" — he wanted to show that it is indeed possible, in the longer term, to "grow" artificial meat with tastes and textures comparable to real meat in lab settings.
How The Test-Tube Burger Was Made
The test-tube burger that was prepared on Monday was created with cow stem cells, mostly using a manual process. To start off with, Mark Post and his colleagues isolated stem cells that were about to turn into muscular cells from cows during a harmless biopsy for which no cows had to die. The cells were then placed into a petri dish and immersed in a serum of proteins, sugars and other nutrients, where they multiplied. A gel was also used to support the cells' growth.
Amazingly, the cells matured through this intensive process and started growing a muscle after several weeks — slowly, but definitely. The muscle was then secured to the petri dish on both ends. Post describes the points at which the tissue was secured as "comparable to tendons, to which muscles in the body are connected".
Stem Cell Burgers — Finally A Sustainable Source Of Meat?
Post and his colleagues certainly did a neat thing. They demonstrated just what science is capable of these days, and that is interesting all by itself. During the burger's demonstration on Monday, Post pointed out that the process could be transferred to any animal that has stem cells in their skeletal muscles — pretty much any animal, though Post specifically mentioned fish and chicken.
The artificial meat burger is a great achievement, because livestock is doing an awful lot of damage to the Earth. Livestock food, high-methane waste, and forest clearing are responsible for up to 51 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Besides that, meat is is simply not sustainable. The animals we use for meat consumption ingest huge amounts of food (corn, for example) that we could be eating directly, and with which we could be feeding many more people.
Yet, the fact remains that humans — most humans — like eating meat, and are going to have a hard time foregoing it. Post's new test-tube burger may currently be less juicy, have a different flavor, and not soft enough. Further research can probably change that, or people might get used to artificial meat's taste and texture. The Googleburger may be a novelty that people will look back on with humor, but it may also turn out to be something that saves the world.