Would you eat a burger made from 20,000 strands of lab-harvested cow muscle tissue? Dr. Mark Post, today's Most Creative Person, is trying to sell the world on a future filled with sustainable, synthesized, and, hopefully, succulent meat.
At a London press conference today, the Maastricht University professor served burger versions of Cultured Beef, the world's first lab-grown meat and the culmination of five years of research. Post's inaugural public taste-testers were the food scientist Hanni Rützler and Josh Schonwald, the author of The Taste Of Tomorrow: Dispatches From The Future Of Food.
Post and his fellow researchers create Cultured Beef by harvesting the muscle cells of a live cow in what they say is a painless process. They nurture the extracted muscle cells in a laboratory, where the cells multiply and grow into small strands of meat muscle tissue. Approximately 20,000 strands are combined to create a single, normal-sized hamburger.
Cultured Beef is currently being funded by Google cofounder Sergey Brin, who Post says shares the team's concerns about sustainable food production and animal welfare. As of May, Brin was reported to have invested $325,000 in Post's research.
The result of that research is a fatless product that sits in stark contrast to the Golden Ratio in burger-making—most connoisseurs agree a composite of about 80% lean beef to 20% fat is what lends the best burgers their luscious bite and aromatic juices. But Post thinks Cultured Beef has the potential to be both a commercially viable substitute for traditionally farmed meat and a solution for the growing global demand for meat, which the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations predicts will increase by more than two-thirds in the near future.
Some critics of synthesized meat say a better approach to any pending food shortage crisis would be to cut down on global meat consumption altogether. But supporters of synthesized meat say it has the potential to address sustainability issues in current meat production practices, such as greenhouse gas emissions and water usage, as well as increase food security for a growing population.
But what about the taste?
"It's somewhere between a Boca Burger and a McDonald's burger," Schonwald said, while Rützler described its taste as resembling "meatloaf without any salt and pepper."
Both Rützler and Schonwald agreed the burger had an almost "cake-like quality," and said the actual temperature of the meat was hotter than they had expected.
For now, Post's focus with Cultured Beef will remain on minced meat. But he says his ambition is to create thicker pieces of meat that could ultimately yield a steak. Perhaps an equally difficult challenge for Post and his backer, Brin, will be in turning the public on to his new form of lab-grown meat. When one reporter at today's press conference asked how Post plans to "overcome the 'yuck' factor" of test-tube meat, the creator played to a possible selling point of growing your own meat: You know exactly where it's coming from.
"Potentially, you can do this in your kitchen. You can grow your own meat," Post says. Jokingly, he adds: "But you have to know what you want to eat eight weeks in advance."
Every year, Fast Company names its Most Creative People100 Most Creative People[/url], highlighting the global leaders in tech, design, media, music, movies, marketing, television, sports, and more. Post, and other thought leaders, will be considered for 2014's list.
[Image: Flickr user Pink Sherbet Photography]