Mary Beard, professor of classics at the University of Cambridge, has waded into the controversy over the presence of horse DNA in some of Britain’s supermarket burgers, describing deep-fried horse meat as “delicious”.

The Newnham College fellow, who was recently awarded an OBE in the New Year honours list, was speaking on the BBC’s Question Time on Thursday when she also suggested that cats would likely be "tasty" too. Earlier this week the Food Safety Authority of Ireland (FSAI) sparked concern when it announced the discovery that some burgers on sale in British supermarkets were likely to be contaminated with horse products.

Once named Britain’s best-known classicist by the Guardian, Beard said: “What is absolutely extraordinary is how we still define ourselves according to which animals we are prepared or not prepared to eat."

“Actually moggy would be nice and chewy and tasty, but none of us want to do that. If we are not vegetarian, we’re happy with chicken, and horse divides Europe, but I can tell you I had it deep-fried in Slovenia and it was gorgeous.”

The investigation into the source of the horse DNA, discovered in meat coming from factories in County Monaghan, Ireland and North Yorkshire, is now focusing on ingredients used to bulk up burgers, likely imported from another EU country.

On Friday the FSAI announced further test results from meat samples taken on Tuesday, showing more products had been contaminated than initially thought.