Feature

Food: Taste-testing the ‘Frankenburger’

Dutch scientists unveiled a burger that was lab-grown from stem cells extracted from two cows’ shoulders.

For $330,000, “the flavor fell a little flat,” said Ricardo Lopez in LATimes.com. But the Dutch scientists who this week unveiled the world’s most expensive burger at a public taste test in London appeared unfazed by that criticism. After all, the eye-watering price tag wasn’t for some fancy cut of beef fed on the finest grain. “In fact, this meat had never so much as mooed in a previous life.” The burger was lab-grown in a petri dish from stem cells extracted from two cows’ shoulders. The strips of muscle tissue were made into pellets, frozen, and squashed into a burger that was flavored and colored with bread crumbs, saffron, and beet juice. No wonder it’s been labeled the “Frankenburger.” Scientists hope it can one day help alleviate the food crisis, but the tasters weren’t so sure. “It was like an animal-protein cake,” said one.

You call that monstrosity a hamburger? said Joanna Blythman in the Daily Mail (U.K.). It’s more like a shamburger. The tough and tasteless patty served up to those poor volunteers bears no more relationship to real meat than “nylon does to cotton.” Its every feature is bogus, from its “grayish yellow tissue” to its lack of natural fats and iron. At a time of mounting public concern about the risks of fake foods, when Europeans are just recovering from finding horsemeat passed off as beef in our supermarkets, I thought it couldn’t get any worse. But this Dutch offering is the ultimate in iffy meat. At least those supermarket horse-burgers came from an animal. Call me old school, but I’ll take my meat “grass-fed, not lab-bred.”

Okay, so the Frankenburger is still a far cry from a porterhouse, said Ezra Klein in WashingtonPost.com. But it’s a start—and maybe it can save the planet. “Meat is simply a huge, huge contributor to climate change,” with livestock taking up 70 percent of agricultural land and accounting for 18 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. And the problem is only going to get worse: The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization predicts that global meat consumption will double by 2050. That’s the real value of test-tube burgers: They could help stop global warming. Animal lovers should be Frankenburger fans, too, said Economist.com. A single sample of stem cells could produce 175 million quarter-pounders—enough to save 440,000 cattle from the slaughterhouse. “Add a bit of ketchup, and what’s not to like?”

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