A burger that “looks, handles, smells, cooks and tastes” like ground beef, but is 100% plant-based?

Not unpossible — impossible.  Impossible Burger to be specific.

Last week I was invited to a media event debuting the Impossible Burger, available exclusively in Texas at Underbelly (lunch only) and Hay Merchant — nationwide it’s currently only offered at 13 other restaurants in a handful of cities.   The Impossible Burger was developed by Impossible Foods, a Silicon Valley start up whose stated mission is to “transform the global system to support 9 billion humans by 2050.”  Patrick O. Brown, Impossible Foods’ founder and CEO, is a Professor Emeritus at Stanford University’s Biochemistry Department.  During an 18-month sabbatical in 2009, he set out to learn what makes beef “smell, sizzle, bleed, and taste gloriously meaty,” and discovered it’s a single molecule called heme — “a basic building block of life on Earth, including plants, but it’s uniquely abundant in meat.”  Heme is what makes blood red, carries oxygen, and gives meat its bloody taste.  Brown and his team discovered how to take heme from plants and produce it through a fermentation process.

According to Impossible Foods, the ability to produce meat and dairy products from plants results in a significantly decreased environmental footprint.  Because the Impossible Burger is made entirely from plants, it uses less water and less land than that used to produce a beef burger, and emits fewer greenhouse gases.  As Chef Chris Shepherd describes it, “it’s an answer for the future.”

  Shepherd and the Impossible Burger

Although the Impossible Burger is a vegetarian and vegan (sans cheese) burger, it is intentionally not marketed as such.  Its target consumer is not vegetarians, but meat-eaters looking for a satisfying alternative.  In fact, company reps report that some vegetarians don’t like the Impossible Burger because it tastes too much like the meat they avoid.

So what’s in an Impossible Burger?  Here’s the ingredient list:  Water, Textured Wheat Protein, Coconut Oil, Potato Protein, Natural Flavors, 2% or less of: Leghemoglobin (soy), Yeast Extract, Salt, Soy Protein Isolate, Konjac Gum, Xanthan Gum, Thiamin (Vitamin B1), Zinc, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12.

And here’s the nutritional information for a 3-ounce patty:

I was surprised to learn that a 6-ounce Impossible Burger, which replicates 80% lean ground beef, is roughly 450 calories, and contains 26g of fat, 22g of which are saturated fat, and 760g of sodium.  In comparison, an 80% lean beef patty of the same size is roughly 425 calories, and contains 34g of fat, 13g of which are saturated fat, and 113g of sodium.  BUT — and this is a big but — the Impossible Burger contains zero cholesterol, compared to 119g of cholesterol in a comparable beef burger.  Additionally, the Impossible Burger is hormone-free, antibiotic-free, and contains no artificial ingredients.  As Shepherd explained,, “if I’m going to eat 2 burgers a week, one of them is going to be an Impossible Burger, because at some point my doctor is going to tell me to chill.”

The Impossible Burger, currently manufactured in New Jersey, arrives at Shepherd’s restaurants in 5-pound blocks, and looks like raw ground beef:

Shepherd is currently serving it in the style of his Cease and Desist Burger — two patties, double cheese, lettuce, tomato, and pickles, accompanied by fries.  The price is $18, but as production capabilities increase, Impossible Foods anticipates that prices will come down.

Photo courtesy Impossible Foods

And here’s the Impossible Burger I actually sampled:

Naturally, I’ve received a lot of questions about what I thought of the Impossible Burger.  I liked it, and I would order it.  The flavor and aroma was, as represented, remarkably like that of a beef burger.  The burgers were served medium rare, which is the doneness at which they most resemble beef, and were well-seasoned with a nice sear.  The texture was softer than a beef patty, which kind of blew its cover, but it was not unpleasant (the company is continuing to work on making the texture like that of a beef burger).  I would have preferred a single patty (same for beef burgers too — I would never order a double patty), and I think the difference in texture would perhaps be less noticeable with a single patty.  (Update:  I saw on Hay Merchant’s Facebook page that they have already determined that a single patty works better.)  I asked Shepherd if he has any other plans for the Impossible Burger (Brown said his wife has served it tartare and it was “delicious”), and he said he’s going to play with it.  I would love to see it served as a dinner option in the style of a Salisbury steak smothered with mushroom gravy — I think it would lend itself nicely to that.

It was exciting to be invited to this media event, and I want to thank Impossible Foods for extending the invitation to me.  If you try the Impossible Burger, leave me a comment and let me know what you think of it!