The Impossible Burger

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This isn’t a food blog, but I can’t help myself. Just last week, I had The Impossible™ Burger (emphasis on The)!

We’ve had Chinese vegetarian fare of fake meat dishes for hundreds of years. “China, the birthplace of fake meat” recounts an official banquet with “replicas of pork and mutton” during the Tang dynasty (AD 618-907). If you’ve never tried, the replicas a very complete – replicating flaky fish with fried skin (seaweed), firm chicken drumsticks with bones (bamboo), chewy mutton and more. Usually, soya beans are the main ingredient, with a focus on replicating texture.

The Impossible Burger by Impossible Foods goes beyond imitating texture. Their magic is a result of exacting scientific R&D, where they decomposed and analyzed every aspect of (ground) beef – from flavour and smell, to texture and mouthfeel, to sizzle and cooking experience – in an attempt to replicate all this using plant-based ingredients. And their breakthrough is the mass-production of “heme.”

“Heme” (soybean leghemoglobin) is the plant equivalent of blood in that is an oxygen carrier. When added to the “meat” mix, heme imparts not just a red hue but also a “bloody taste when raw!” Alas, it’s is difficult to extract heme from the root nodules of soy plants, and the miniscule quantities that would not be viable commercially. But now, Impossible have perfected the process of growing genetically engineered yeast in fermentation vats, making their product cost-competitive.

And to prove the point, starting in August 2019, Burger King has begun a nationwide rollout of the Impossible Whopper, priced at just $1 premium over its beef counterpart! (This may be true in the States but it’s certainly not the case where I’m at. Here, the Impossible Burger has limited availability and is somewhat expensive).

The ever insightful Stephen J. Dubner discussed the future of meat in his Freakonomics podcast episode 367, dated 13 February 2019. In it, he interviewed Pat Brown MD, PhD, founder of Impossible Foods. You may refrain from meat for health reasons, on religious grounds, or abosolve yourself from the curelty involved in the raising and slaughter of animals (think intensive chicken farming). That’s great for you as an individual, but Dr Brown also makes an additional dire point that impacts all of us: “the use of animals as a food-production technology, is… By far the most environmentally destructive thing that humans do.” We need a food revolution if we, as a species are to continue to thrive, and Dr. Brown is clearly pioneering one approach, “towards delicious, abundant, affordable and sustainable food.”

The Internet is a rabbit hole of more information on this topic, including lab-grown meat.

So I’ll end here instead, by concluding with my experience of the latest “2.0” recipe (which was initially, all I wanted to rave about).

Obligatory, unflattering photo of the Impossible Burger

In a word: “Wow.”

Ok, that’s an exclamation and not really a word. How about “Yum?” Haha.

Knowing full well it’s not meat, my first bite was a bit of a surprise. My burger was cooked through, a little dry, and had a slight taste I couldn’t quite place. But beyond that slight tinge that cause me to go “hmmm”, everything else about the patty – the look, texture, bite, “umami” – is perfectly replicated.

For meat eaters who don’t over analyze: that’s just a good burger! I look forward to more Impossible!