The Latest In Hamburger Technology, Ctd

Daniel Engber thinks that lab-grown meat is nonsensical. He notes that the world’s first test-tube burger began “yellow-white, so [creator Mark Post] colored it with beet juice, caramel and saffron”:

[L]aboratory meat only seems “real”—it only matches up with the taste you know and love—when mixed with additives to improve its color, flavor, and mouthfeel. But if that’s true, then what’s the point? Does a base of cultured cow cells really get us any closer to a perfect substitute for flesh than soy or wheat or mushroom? Last year, Slate’s Farhad Manjoo raved about the latest veggie form of “chicken,” a product made from extruded soy paste that, in the words of its founder, gets “the proteins to align in a way that makes them almost indistinguishable from animal proteins.” Sounds like dopey marketing to me, but Farhad swears Beyond Meat is “90 to 95 percent as realistic as chicken.”

The whole idea, of course, is that lab-made meat can do much better because it’s made from bovine stem cells: Instead of 95-percent authenticity, it will get to 99 percent or even higher. But there’s little reason to be hopeful. It’s true that scientists can make synthetic versions of natural products—much of the vanilla flavor in our food supply, for example, comes not from the vanilla orchid but a process of industrial fermentation. (Either way, the ingredient tastes pretty much the same.) Meat is a far more complicated substance, though—a mix of muscle, fat, tendons, ligaments, and blood—and one that doesn’t lend itself to “nature-identical” formulations. (The life history of an animal also affects its taste, and makes it harder to recreate that taste by hand.)

Earlier Dish on Post’s test-tube burger here and here.