In 2013, Dr. Mark Post and his team at Maastricht University in the Netherlands presented to a few lucky tasters, and a worldwide audience, a single hamburger grown in a lab from beef stem cells. While there have been many other innovative burger products coming and going over the last few years, Post’s burger had the unique claim to fame that it was made of real, pure beef—beef that had not been cut from a cow.
It was lean—made just from muscle—with added beet juice for color. While the texture was slightly below the mark, the price point was way above it, coming in at $325,000 to create the one and only such patty.
This year, Dr. Post proclaimed that, as soon as 2020, customers will be able to buy lab-grown burgers for $10 apiece.
The idea of eating lab-grown meat is still hard to wrap one’s head around. But it’s an intriguing one, particularly in light of inhumane treatment of livestock, cattle producing greenhouse gases linked to global warming, and the world’s growing population leading to food insecurity. Dr. Post recently spoke to Cook’s Illustrated about the project.
Cook’s Illustrated: What is the current timeline and price for the cultured burger?
Dr. Mark Post: In the face of what we still need to do—scale up, get regulatory approval, change some of the production system—in 3-4 years, it’s going to be about $10 for a hamburger. I was a little bit conservative in 2013, but in the back of my mind I thought it was not going to be 10 years, but more like 5.
CI: What might slow you down?
MP: Scaling up. It’s completely new technology. The systems that allow us to scale up are already there, but they’ve never been used for these types of cells or this type of production. The process consists of two phases. One is cell production. The technology is very similar to when you do this for bacteria or yeast: it’s a fermenting process. In this case, the products from the cells aren’t the product; the cells are the product.
The second phase is more tissue formation: you allow the cells to make tissues, and that requires automation, replacing mechanical handling [by humans with] robots. It will look a bit like a pipetting robot and automate transfer of the tissue to a maturation module, and from there [it will be] automatically harvested.