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September 6, 2013

PETERS: Hamburger grown in a laboratory

(Continued)

Hanni Rutzler and Josh Schonwald, both people with food credentials, were chosen to be the tasters at the public unveiling of the burger. The event was done with considerable pizzazz. In addition to media hoopla like streamed video, a top chef cooked up the burger in front of a live audience.

Rutzler and Schonwald reportedly thought the patty had the basic texture of meat. It lacked fat because it was grown entirely from muscle cells. Fat lends flavor to beef so perhaps it’s no surprise the tasters thought the flavor of the patty fell a bit short.

The medium used to grow the cells had animal products in it. According to NPR, Post says he is at work on a non-animal medium that could be used in the future. That would be one key to making the new approach to meat kinder on the environment than our current practice of raising cattle for slaughter.

You and I won’t get a chance to taste-test a lab-made burger anytime soon. Post needs to bring down the price, currently at about $31 per pound, and to decrease the time it takes to grow the meat.

“We need to show that we can make it more efficient,” Post said as quoted by NPR. “But we think we can have a more affordable price and have this in supermarkets in 10 to 20 years.”

There are challenges yet to be addressed. Somehow adding fat to the muscle protein would improve texture and flavor. And the economics of the project may only move forward if major food companies start to invest in it. Finally, to be successful in the marketplace the lab-grown burger would have to overcome hesitancy on the part of some people who simply find the idea of manufactured meat to be “icky.”

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