Today, I tried the Impossible BurgerTM for the first time. I’d seen this all over the internet – on social media, in the news – but this was the first time I’d seen it on a menu. It was at The Counter in Pasadena, CA.
If you haven’t heard of this product before, The Impossible Burger is a completely vegan burger that claims to look like meat, bleed like meat, and taste like meat. It is plant based, using potato protein, wheat, and coconut oil (and natural flavors) as the bulk of the burger patty, but it’s real innovation is the addition of heme. You may have heard of hemoglobin. It is the protein in your red blood cells that carries oxygen around the body. At the center of the protein is iron in the form of heme, which gives blood its characteristic rust color and slightly metallic smell. A related protein, myoglobin, resides in muscle tissues and makes red meat taste like red meat. For the purposes of the Impossible Burger, they have genetically engineered yeast to produce a different protein with heme – leghemoglobin – which is usually found in plants such as soybeans. By adding heme, they’ve made a patty that is has the color and smell of a beef patty and that “bleeds” when cooked rare.
But what does it taste like? Pretty good, but it’s not quite an exact match. Both the texture and flavor remind me a bit of mashed potatoes, perhaps mashed potatoes that have been cooked with beef in a shepherd’s pie. If you look closely, the patty is made of small fibers that are loosely packed together in a way that falls apart more easily than a beef patty. Eating it, the heme definitely covers the slightly sweet vegetable smell I usually notice when eating vegan food, but when I was done, I wasn’t as full as I usually expect to be when leaving The Counter. The Impossible Burger packs around 20% fewer calories than the same amount of ground beef.
Lastly, there’s the matter of price. A 1/3 lb. (150g) Impossible Burger cost me $16, as much as if I’d opted for organic bison and a whopping $4 more than conventional beef. The Counter also already offers a cheaper vegetarian option. At this price point, the Impossible Burger is nothing more than a novelty, but it’s also a step in the right direction. However, for a meat-eater like me, there’s still a ways to go.