The Impossible Burger is made from plants, but it isn’t meant for vegetarians. Instead, the burger–which was made to replicate the real thing in every detail, including plant-based “blood” inside–is intended to convert meat-lovers.
“Our target is hard-core meat-eaters, and our goal is to produce the best burger they’ve ever tasted,” says Impossible Foods founder Patrick Brown, a former Stanford University biochemistry professor. “Our ground beef sizzles, smells, feels, and tastes just like ground beef from an animal.”
Brown started the project after asking himself how he could make the most positive impact on the world. “I quickly realized that one of humanity’s biggest challenges is figuring out how to feed 10 billion people without turning the planet into one giant cow pasture,” he says. Already, the world uses 30% of its dry land to raise animals for food, he learned, and that percentage is predicted to rise.
By some estimates, meat production will double by 2020. Raising livestock already accounts for about 18% of greenhouse gas emissions. Beef has the biggest carbon footprint of any meat, and giving up beef may have more impact than giving up a car. But can really real fake meat successfully compete?
The Impossible Burger team started from scratch to analyze every aspect of a real burger. Part of the key to taste, they found, was blood.
“The molecule responsible for the red look of animal meat also provides an important component of meat’s taste,” Brown says. “Our ‘plant blood’ contains the same molecule, and is the main reason our plant meat tastes like animal meat when you cook it. The only difference is that we get our “blood” from plants instead of an animal.”
The burger also duplicates things like fat and connective tissue so the texture feels right.
“We have invented a new process that replaces what an animal does to produce meat,” Brown explains. “Cows eat grass and turn those nutrients into muscle, fat, connective tissue–all the components that are later ground into hamburger. Animal meat is made of a complex combination of proteins, amino acids, and enzymes that give meat its unique characteristics and flavors. All of those ingredients originate with the plants the animals eat.”
The result is not a “veggie burger,” he claims. “We’re creating the best meat the world has ever seen, directly from proteins and other natural ingredients found in plants. It’s an entirely new category of food.”
Of course, we haven’t had the chance to test this for ourselves, but by late next year, the Impossible Burger should be on store shelves and customers will be able to judge. The first samples now are pricey and cost more than a beef burger from cows. But the team believes the cost will come down quickly, as they produce at a larger scale.
Ultimately, unlike the first generation of fake burgers, the Impossible Burger is intended to be a true contender to replace beef–healthier, cheaper, better for the environment, and just as tasty. Whether the company is chasing an impossible dream, time will soon tell.