(USA TODAY) - The first reviews are in for lab-made beef and the stuff apparently could use a little hamburger helper.
The burger was fried in a pan in London and served to two volunteers -- American food author Josh Schonwald and Austrian food researcher Hanni Ruetzler. The Daily Mail in London reports that the duo's reviews were mixed.
'I was expecting the texture to be more soft. ... I know there is no fat in it so I didn't know how juicy it would be," said Ruetzler. "It's close to meat. It's not that juicy. The consistency is perfect."
"The absence is the fat, it's a leanness to it, but the bite feels like a conventional hamburger," Schonwald told the Associated Press. He added that he had rarely tasted a hambuger, as he did on Monday, "without ketchup or onions or jalapenos or bacon."
Professor Mark Post's team at the University of Maastricht in the Netherlands conducted experiments which progressed from mouse meat to pork and finally beef, the Daily Mail reports.
"'What we are going to attempt is important because I hope it will show cultured beef has the answers to major problems that the world faces," Post said before the tasting began, citing the effort to feed the world and to combat climate change. Post said livestock farming is becoming unsustainable, with demand for meat rocketing around the world.
Don't be expecting test-tube steaks anytime soon. Manufacturing steaks instead of minced meat presents a much greater technical challenge, requiring some kind of blood vessel system to carry nutrients and oxygen to the center of the tissue, Post told the Daily Mail. Making artificial chicken or fish from stem cells might be easier.
Monday's taste test, coming after five years of research, is a key step toward making lab meat a culinary phenomenon. Post called it "a good start," saying it was crucial that the burger has the "look, feel and taste like the real thing."
Despite the tasters concern about flavor, scientists say that can be tweaked.
"Taste is the least (important) problem since this could be controlled by letting some of the stem cells develop into fat cells," said Stig Omholt, director of biotechnology at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. Adding fat to the burgers this way would probably be healthier than getting it from naturally chunky cows, Omholt said before Monday's test. He was not involved in the project.
Post and colleagues made the meat from the muscle cells of two organic cows. The cells were put into a nutrient solution to help them develop into muscle tissue, growing into small strands of meat.
It took nearly 20,000 strands to make a single 5-ounce patty, which for Monday's taste test was seasoned with salt, egg powder, bread crumbs, red beet juice and saffron.
"I'm a vegetarian, but I would be first in line to try this," said Jonathan Garlick, a stem cell researcher at Tufts University School of Dental Medicine in Boston. He has used similar techniques to make human skin but wasn't involved in the burger research.
Experts say new ways of producing meat are needed to satisfy growing carnivorous appetites without exhausting resources. By 2050, the Food and Agriculture Organization predicts global meat consumption will double as more people in developing countries can afford it. Raising animals destined for the dinner table takes up about 70% of all agricultural land.
The animal rights group PETA has thrown its support behind the lab-meat initiative.
"As long as there's anybody who's willing to kill a chicken, a cow or a pig to make their meal, we are all for this," said Ingrid Newkirk, PETA's president and co-founder. "Instead of the millions and billions (of animals) being slaughtered now, we could just clone a few cells to make burgers or chops."