London - The solitary chicken nugget looks unremarkable. Lightly breaded and pale in colour, the chef submerges it in hot oil where it sizzles away for a couple of minutes until it is perfectly cooked and browned. Moments later I bite into it and my mouth is awash with the delicious and familiar taste of chicken.
But what makes this small piece of meat groundbreaking is that the chicken it comes from is still alive and well, running around a farm in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a 90-minute drive south of the San Francisco lab where I have "eaten" him (or her).
The chicken I’ve just sampled has never laid an egg, grown a feather or been slaughtered. It began life as primordial mush in a glass flask filled with bright red liquid and was grown inside a steel vat in a laboratory.
I became one of the first people in the world to eat lab-grown, cultured chicken, where stem cells from the base of a feather from a live bird were harvested by scientists, nurtured in a nutrient-rich broth and then placed in a steel container called a bioreactor. The cells then replicated and grew into meat genetically identical to the original animal.
WATCH: I tasted a lab-grown chicken nugget
The process takes just two weeks, compared to the seven to nine weeks it takes a real bird to be fattened before slaughter. The taste is exactly the same as chicken, although the texture is slightly smoother than the real thing.
Scientists are still working on introducing muscle tone and texture to the lab-grown meat. They are experimenting with 3D printing to turn the lab version, which has a mushy, minced appearance, into familiar shapes such as chicken breasts and wings.
It is mind-blowing stuff and, as Josh Tetrick, founder and chief executive of Just Meat, one of the companies pioneering this new technology, told me with a grin: "This will revolutionise the world of food production. Welcome to the future."
It may sound like science-fiction but thanks to a chicken called Ian – the first bird to have his stem cells harvested in 2017 – the technology is now so advanced that Tetrick and other entrepreneurs claim to have come up with a solution to end world hunger, eradicate food-borne illnesses and reduce global warming.
Grandiose claims perhaps, but Silicon Valley heavyweights such as Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Eduardo Saverin, who co-founded Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg, have ploughed millions into Tetrick’s company, which plans to make cultured meat available to the public by the end of this year.
Environmental benefits could be huge. At the moment, traditional cattle farming uses 70% of world’s non-ice covered land, and the methane produced by cows is a major contributor to global warming. Moreover, a cow takes 18 months to get to slaughter, compared to two weeks to produce lab-grown beef.Daily Mail