05/08/2013 14:07 BST | Updated 05/08/2013 18:15 BST

Test-Tube Hamburger: Lab-Grown Meat 'Cultured Beef' Dubbed 'The Future Of Food'

Working as a chef is a highly stressful job but when what you're cooking is worth €250,000 and is the only one in existence the pressure is a touch more intense.

This is exactly the situation faced by Richard McGeown at the unveiling of the world's first ever beef burger made entirely of lab-grown meat.

The world's media gathered on a stuffy Monday morning in a TV studio in Hammersmith to see what had been billed as a revolution in food technology that could "solve the coming food crisis and combat climate change".

Richard McGeown of Couch's Great House Restaurant in Cornwall grapples with the burger

We're not told what the penalty would be if McGeown burned the food but presumably a hefty fine and a conscience weighed by the guilt of a ruined ecosystem would suffice.

Professor Mark Post of Maastricht University has spent the past five years working towards creating enough lab-grown meat to make this one single burger.

He said: "What we are trying today is important because I hope it will show Cultured Beef has the answers to major problems that the world faces".

Professor Mark Post with his finished creation

And when the Professor says "major" he is not exaggerating.

The world's population is set to reach nine billion by 2050 and demand for meat will double. Current production methods are simply unsustainable.

The project is backed by none other than Google co-founder, Sergey Brin and, almost paradoxically, animal rights campaigners PETA are calling it "the future of food".

Back to the burger and chef McGeown admits to event host Nina Hossain that "the pressure is on".

Close up the perfectly spherical slab of meat looks like thousands of tiny pink maggots - 20,000 of them to be precise.

The world's most expensive burger

Each strand is grown from cells that are "painlessly harvested" from a cow and then coaxed into growing by placing in a nutrient solution and "exercised" with electrical stimulation.

Some salt, egg powder and breadcrumbs are added to bind it all together and red beet juice and saffron give it a more palatable appearance.

And then the big moment comes. The two (un)lucky tasters are Josh Schonwald, a Chicago-based author who has written much on the future of food, and Hanni Rützler, an Austrian food researcher.

The cooked burger is presented by host Nina Hossain

Rützler goes first and gets stuck in - not even bothering with the bun or garnish thoughtfully placed alongside on the plate.

She says: "I was expecting the texture to be more soft but there's really some bite to it. There is some flavour with the browning.

"There is quite some intense taste. It's close to meat but it's not that juicy."

Hanni Rützler tucks in

This is something acknowledged by Professor Post. Despite the remarkable achievement of growing meat the team have yet to find a way of doing the same with fat, which gives a burger much of its taste and texture.

Schonwald agreed although the most "unnatural" thing about the experience for him was eating a burger without ketchup.

He said: "Fat is a big part of it. It had a familiar mouthfeel, a bite to it but what was conspicuously different about it was flavour."

The garnish remained noticeably untouched

Despite being described most unappetisingly by Schonwald as an "animal protein cake", Professor Post insisted the event served its purpose of showcasing a viable technology.

He said: "Some of the flavour and some of the juiciness comes from the fat so that's clearly the next step.

"I'm very happy with the comments and this is just a good start."

The technique throws up a number of interesting questions. Is it suitable for vegetarians? And, perhaps more importantly, could you make a penguin burger if you wanted to?

The answer to both is yes although Professor Post is keen to point out that as one of the main goals of the technology is to reduce the environmental impact of meat production, vegetarians would do best to simply carry on being vegetarian.

As for the penguin burger, in theory any animal with muscle cells could contribute to a burger. Even human.

Sergey Brin was revealed as the backer of the project

Disregarding these rather gruesome possibilities for a moment, the implications of he technique are undoubtedly profound.

Sergey Brin said: "There are basically three things that can happen going forward. One is that we all become vegetarian. I don't think that's very likely.

"The second is we ignore the issues and that leads to continued environmental hard and the third is we do something new.

"Sometimes when technology comes along, it has the capability to transform how we view our world. I like to look at technology opportunities.

"When technology seems like it is on the cusp of viability and if it succeeds there, it can be really transformative for the world."

Professor Post predicts we could see Cultured Beef in the supermarkets in 10-20 years.

But before it changes the world lab-grown meat faces a more fundamental challenge - the "yuck factor".

Would you eat it?