Long ago, plant-based culinary developers Impossible Foods casually announced they’d be manufacturing a meatless burger that would change the world. As dubious as that claim once sounded, this July, with the endorsement of musician Questlove and notable chef and burger manifesto-writer David Chang, the patty that allegedly “bleeds plant blood” (more on that later) debuts for all the world to sear.
What makes the Impossible Foods burger different from the mushy puck made of broccoli and oatmeal you’ve politely (or perhaps forcefully) declined in the past? For starters, it doesn’t really have much in common with its processed vegetable-based ancestors. Rather than using a mix of vegetables and grains that can form and hold a patty shape, Impossible Foods enlisted coconut oil (solid at room temperature like beef fat), potato protein (crisps up on the surface and edges) and heme, a yeast-based molecule not unlike the hemoglobin found in animal blood that gives a real burger its red color and iron-forward beefy flavor. What’s more, the patty can be cooked to specific doneness. You want a rare burger? You got it.
The model is not without flaws, however. Modern Farmer’s critique of the burger argues that the company may be missing the point. While the reduction of meat consumption is always positive, if a substitute isn’t better than the original, what exactly is the game-changer? Well, it’s not like former omnivores gave up meat because they stopped enjoying the flavor (and again, David Chang called these burgers “juicy/bloody with real texture like beef”). The closer science gets to a truly interchangeable meat substitute that won’t rouse the ire of those only too happy to deploy the term “hippie garbage,” the closer we’ll get to carbon-footprint reduction stats like Impossible Foods is reporting, like 89 percent less greenhouse gas emissions. The kind of numbers that mean business.