Made with potato and wheat proteins, the Impossible Burger is renowned for the red 'heme' that oozes out with every bite, making it eerily similar to beef.
Last Saturday evening, after attending the Reducetarian Summit at NYU in Manhattan, I went in search of the Impossible Burger. I’d heard it was available at a nearby restaurant called BareBurger – one of only a few places in the United States that sells it – and I wanted to experience it for myself.
The Impossible Burger is a feat of food science, a plant-based burger that supposedly replicates ground beef to a remarkable level of accuracy. It’s one of those interesting vegan inventions that writers like myself cover enthusiastically for TreeHugger, but rarely have the opportunity to try in person (especially if you live in Canada where these cool things are not so widely available).
When I arrived at BareBurger, it was crowded, but I found a seat at the bar. The waiter gave me a special flyer explaining about the Impossible Burger: “Formerly known as plants!” Within minutes, out came a plate with the Impossible Burger on a bun with toppings and a basket of fries. A small flag in the top announced its unorthodox origin.
The burger looked like a beef patty and, sure enough, when I bit into it, I could see the redness oozing out. This ‘blood’ replica is what sets the Impossible Burger apart from other plant-based burgers. It’s made from heme, the same oxygen-carrying molecule that turns blood red, but is found in every living thing, including plants. This heme is made by fermentation:
“We add the soy leghemoglobin gene to a yeast strain, and grow the yeast via fermentation. Then we isolate the leghemoglobin, or heme, from the yeast. We add heme to the Impossible Burger to give it the intense, meaty flavor, aroma and cooking properties of animal meat.”
My burger had a crispy top and bottom, but the ‘meat’ was surprisingly soft; I’d expected something chewier. It felt fragile and kept slipping out of the bun, even breaking into a few large pieces near the end. It tasted great, but as someone who does eat beef occasionally, I could definitely tell it wasn’t real meat. I thought it had a faint flavor of liver, but my friend did not detect the same.
The Impossible Burger is made from potato and wheat protein, bound with xanthan and konjac, a high-fiber vegan substitute for gelatin that hails from Japan. It is flavored with coconut oil (15 percent content, which is roughly equivalent to a good beef patty), vitamins, amino acids, sugars, and heme.
Currently the Impossible Burger is only available in select restaurants, which is the opposite approach to its chief rival, the Beyond Burger, whose gluten-free, pea-protein patties colored with beet juice are only available in supermarket freezers.
Dana Worth, head of commercialization for Impossible Foods, said this is strategic. Chefs are “tastemakers… the ones in the kitchen” who will influence societal perceptions of taste and normalize something that might be perceived initially as weird. Impossible Foods sees chefs as having broader influence over the public’s food preferences than if the burger went straight to retail.
I question the efficacy of this strategy, since many people I spoke to have tried the Beyond Burger, available at every Whole Foods in the U.S., but relatively few have tasted the Impossible Burger because it’s so much harder to find.
Nevertheless, eating the Impossible Burger was a real pleasure, and I would certainly order it again, if I could find it. It was not a cheap meal (especially with the Canadian conversion rate), starting at $13.95 for the classic burger, with fries as an added charge, but I don’t mind paying for the diminished environmental impact, which Impossible Foods likes to boast is equivalent to saving 10 minutes of showering, 18 minutes of driving, and 75 square feet of land.
I think Impossible Foods would do well to push their burger into the retail sphere as well, rather than sticking with restaurants that are few and far between. There is growing demand for plant-based meat alternatives, especially by omnivores who are increasingly concerned about the environmental impact of meat production but may not want to eat the dry, insipid patties that have dominated the meatless burger scene for far too long.