Impossible Meat!

Every idiot on the Internet has already weighed in on Impossible Meat and Impossible Burgers, and who am I to not join the cacophony? In case you haven’t seen a newspaper or been on the Internet for a few months, Impossible Meats is a company that wants to make plant based meat substitutes that taste and handle just like real meat.  Their first offering is hamburger meat.

Two burgers, one impossible

Our two whoppers! A regular Whopper on the left, an Impossible Whopper on the right

Patrick Brown, the CEO and founder of Impossible Foods, is a scientist with excellent credentials.  According to Forbes, he has been a vegetarian for more than 30 years and a vegan for 5.  As an environmentalist, his mission statement is, “To drastically reduce humanity’s destructive impact on the global environment by completely replacing the use of animals as a food production technology. We intend to accomplish this mission within two decades by creating the world’s most delicious, nutritious, affordable and sustainable meat, fish and dairy foods directly from plants.”

The Impossible Burger is made from soy, and it has heme added to it.  Heme is the compound that all living organisms have that carries oxygen.  You see it as the red stuff that oozes out of a steak after you cook it.  Having it makes the Impossible Burger more believable.  Impossible Foods looked for many sources for heme, and finally wound up using a GMO organism to make it in large quantities.  The process occurs in vats and is similar to how a number of pharmaceutical products are made.

Some people are really worked up about the company and the product.  One local paper ran an article entitled, “We tried the Impossible Burger so you don’t have to”.  Someone commented that it was so bad that her entire family suffered “poopypants” before they made it to their car (she used a far more graphic term).  Some people object to the Impossible burger because it is a highly processed food.  Some people have been upset because part of the Impossible Burger comes from GMO microorganisms.  Some people have gotten worked up asking online, “If you want to eat meat so badly, why not just eat meat?”  Maybe it’s advancing old age, but it takes more and more to get me excited these days.  So, I’m not foaming at the mouth.

But really, many of those comments are total nonsense.  Eating the Impossible Burger is hardly a penance.  While I’m sorry that woman’s family suffered the shame of poopypants, since no one else has reported that happening, it’s not likely to be due to the Impossible Burger.

Yes, the Impossible is a processed food.  But so is the bun that surrounds it.  And the mustard, mayo and catsup on it.  And the cheese is also processed.  Unless your diet consists of raw fruits and vegetables eaten as they were plucked from the vine, your food is processed.  That said, some food is processed better than others and I do have a preference for minimally processed foods, which does give me pause about the Impossible Burger.

While the GMO question is a concern for some the organisms are contained in vats and only the heme they produce is used.  Moreover, the target audience for their products is not, largely, vegans and vegetarians.  Yes, some vegans gave up meat because they don’t want to be responsible for killing animals and really miss eating meat.  But there are a lot more of the rest of us who enjoy eating meat and who are contributing to climate change as a result.

Two Whoppers, up close and personal

Our Whoppers, cut in half for examination. Regular on the left, Impossible on the right.

The first big question is, “is the impossible burger a believable substitute meat?”  The local paper that ran the, “We Tried Impossible Burgers So You Don’t Have To” article had a vegan taster on their panel.  She couldn’t finish her Impossible Burger – it was to much like meat and just grossed her out, which suggests it is more believable than earlier soy burgers.

We went to two different restaurants to try Impossible Burgers.  One was a Houlihans.  We ordered a regular burger and an Impossible burger.  We cut both in half, and both of us enjoyed 1/2 of each burger.  Yes, I said enjoyed.  Both were good.  The regular burger was more “beefy” for lack of a better term.  However, if we hadn’t known that one burger wasn’t meat, we wouldn’t have been able to tell.  It isn’t clear if we had the original Impossible Burger which was wheat based or the newer “2.0” soy based Impossible Burger.

Then Burger King came out with their Impossible Whopper.  Industry reports suggest that the Impossible Whopper has created a surge of customers coming into their restaurants.  It remains to be seen how long the surge lasts.  Is it jut curiosity?  Or a pent up desire for vegan food at Burger King?  Time will tell.

We did the same thing again, we ordered a regular and an Impossible Whopper and cut them in half, each of us having half of each burger.  This time we took pictures!  Both were good with the regular Whopper having a slight edge.  The Impossible Whopper was believable but not great.  The texture was like low grade burger meat a bit more crumbly than the “real thing”.  The regular Whopper also had more of a smoke flavor.  It has been pointed out that by default the Impossible Whoppers are cooked on the same grill with regular Whoppers, and if this is an issue for a vegan they will microwave the Impossible Whopper to avoid cross contamination.  Did we have a microwaved Impossible Whopper?  Or does the Impossible meat just pick up less smoke flavor from the grill?  It’s impossible to tell since we didn’t see them cook it.

And that shines a light on part of the problem.  It isn’t always easy to separate how food was cooked with how it tastes.  Still, the Impossible Whopper was a decent Whopper.  We wouldn’t say no to one, and wouldn’t be heart broken if all the Whoppers became Impossible Whoppers.

Bottom line?  Give it a try, you may be surprised at how good they are.  The other questions remain open.  I like the ideal of a lower ecological impact.  I like the idea that no animals had to die so I could have a burger.  We’ll see how things shake out.


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