The burger of the future

Readingtime 10 minutes

Traditional hamburger patties are facing competition from alternatives made of plant-based raw materials or cultivated animal stem cells. This is how they are produced:

Plant-based meat

Companies such as Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat are booming. That’s because it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference between their plant-based meat substitutes and real meat. The recipes are varied and generally secret. However, we do know a few facts about them.


The basic elements are plant proteins, for example legumes such as soybeans and peas. The addition of potatoes or rice adds crispness and roast aromas when the patties are fried.

Vegetable proteins


Modern processing technology gives the protein a meaty structure. For example, in the wet extrusion process, the raw mass is pressed through a nozzle and simultaneously cooked.

Wet extrusion


The iron compound called heme is an important component of the blood of all vertebrates. Soybean plants produce small amounts of it in their roots. If the corresponding DNA is implanted in yeast cells, heme can be produced in a bioreactor.

Production of Haem by implanting DNA building blocks in yeast cells


Heme gives the protein mass its red color and meaty taste. Other ingredients include spices, flavorings, vitamins, and minerals.

Protein mass from Seasonings, flavorings, vitamins, minerals and heme


Plant-based oil makes the burgers juicy. Coconut oil has the advantage of remaining solid until it is heated. It only melts in the pan—just like animal fats.

Vegetable fat makes burger juicy


To make the mass cohere, methylcellulose is added. It’s the main component of wallpaper paste—but in the form of E 461 it also thickens many foods, ranging from ice cream to mayonnaise.

addition of methylcellulose

Meat from the lab

Producing meat without slaughtering animals—that’s the promise of the scientists developing in vitro meat. A number of companies are trying to grow real meat based on cell samples taken from animals, mainly chickens, pigs, cows, and fish.


After administering local anesthesia, a small sample of muscle tissue is removed from a healthy animal. A few hundred cells
are enough.

cells from muscle tissue of cattle


The muscle cells are separated from the fat cells. The satellite cells are isolated from the muscle cells. These are special stem cells that repair damaged muscle.

Satellite cells are isolated from musclecells


When placed in the right nutrient solution, satellite cells multiply almost endlessly. Theoretically, ten tons of tissue could be cultivated from a single cell. The nutrient solution required for this is often still based on calf serum. Companies are looking for plant-based alternatives.

Satellite cells


If the amount of certain proteins known as growth factors in the nutrient solution is reduced, the satellite cells react by forming muscle cells (myoblasts).

Satellite cells become muscle cells


Myoblasts autonomously organize themselves into fibers called myotubes, which are only up to a third of a millimeter long. When they are correctly organized on a flexible carrier, they form tiny muscle fibers and begin to contract. The muscle “trains” itself and increases in mass.



About 20,000 of these mini-muscles are needed to make one burger patty. They can be processed in the same way as ground beef. The only thing now missing is fat—either plant-based or cultivated fat.

Minimuscles in connection with fat
burger patty

€ 250,000

That’s the approximate cost of the first hamburger cultivated in a laboratory. A University of Maastricht research team headed by Mark Post sampled this delicacy in front of TV cameras in 2013. According to Post, burger patties like this one can soon be produced at a cost of about €10.

Photo: Pineapple studio –
Illustration: Maximilian Nertinger


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