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Cooking a burger made from Cultured Beef. [Photograph: David Parry / PA Wire]

The world's first lab-grown burger, which has been in development for five years as a potential sustainable alternative to meat production, was unveiled and tasted today at a live event in London. The tasters' first impressions: "it had the texture of meat but was short of flavor because of the lack of fat," reports AP. The five-ounce burger was made of nearly 20,000 strands of meat, seasoned with salt, egg powder, and bread crumbs, and colored with red beet juice and saffron. It was pan fried in sunflower oil and butter. You can watch a video of the hour-long event at Cultured Beef.

What's more important than the beef's taste, though, is that it exists at all. From Henry Fountain in New York Times:

But taste and texture were largely beside the point: The event, arranged by a public relations firm and broadcast live on the Web, was meant to make a case that so-called in vitro, or cultured, meat deserves additional financing and research. Proponents of the idea, including Dr. Mark Post, the Dutch researcher who created the hamburger at the University of Maastricht, say that lab-made meat could provide high-quality protein for the world's growing population while avoiding most of the environmental and animal-welfare issues related to conventional livestock production.

Fountain continues on the environmental impact of lab-grown, or cultured, meat:

Recent studies have shown that producing cultured meat in factories could greatly reduce water, land and energy use, and emissions of methane and other greenhouse gases, compared with conventional meat production using livestock. Depending on how the stem cells were obtained, no animals might need to be killed to make the meat.

Asked if cultured meat might be attractive to vegetarians, Dr. Post said: "Vegetarians should remain vegetarian. That's even better for the environment."

If you're interested in trying cultured beef, you might get your chance in a decade. According to culturedbeef.net, cultured meat might be available commercially within 10 to 20 years.

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A burger made from Cultured Beef. [Photograph: David Parry / PA Wire]

Dr. Mark Post of Maastricht University, head of the team developing the lab-grown burger, explains how the burger is made in this video from BBC News. Here's a quick rundown:

He starts with stem cells extracted from cow muscle tissue. In the laboratory, these are cultured with nutrients and growth promoting chemicals to help them develop and multiply. Three weeks later, there are more than a million stem cells which are put into smaller dishes where they coalesce into small strips of muscle about a centimetre long and a few millimetres thick.

These strips are collected into small pellets which are frozen. When there are enough, they are defrosted and compacted into a patty just before being cooked.

The cost of developing the burger was €250,000 (about $331,200) and it was funded by Google co-founder Sergey Brin.

Cultured Beef Introduction Video

[Video: DeptOfExpansion on YouTube]

About the author: Robyn Lee is the editor of A Hamburger Today and takes many of the photos for Serious Eats. She'll also doodle cute stuff when necessary. Read more from Robyn at her personal food blog, The Girl Who Ate Everything.

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