Impossible Burger 2.0 tastes like beef. Really

Next up, steak.

Dara Kerr Former senior reporter
Dara Kerr was a senior reporter for CNET covering the on-demand economy and tech culture. She grew up in Colorado, went to school in New York City and can never remember how to pronounce gif.
Dara Kerr
4 min read

Talk about a spread: meat skewers with a green chimichurri sauce fanned out on a platter. A plate of spicy Thai-style larb laced with ginger and peanuts served in lettuce bowls. And, of course, burgers. 

"You can smell that meaty char right off the grill," said Laura Kliman, a senior flavor scientist and cook for the day at Impossible Foods' Silicon Valley test kitchen. "We are striving to get that total meat experience."

Impossible Foods is known for its plant-based vegan burger that tastes a lot like real beef. Founded in 2011, the company was first to use an ingredient called heme, a blood-like compound found in all living things and that can replicate the taste, color and aroma of meat. Its Impossible Burger is now sold in more than 5,000 restaurants and chains across the US, including Momofuku Nishi, Umami Burger, Burger King and White Castle.

Watch this: The Impossible Burger gets a beefy upgrade at CES 2019

But the burger I tried at the test kitchen a couple of weeks ago was wholly different. It had a juicy pink interior with a smoky charred crust. And the faux meat was soft and savory. Impossible Burger 2.0 is a tinkering of and improvement on the first version. If the current burger tastes like an OK Sizzler steak, then this new version is a well-massaged Kobe ribeye.

I couldn't tell it wasn't the real thing.

Related: Is vegan cheese as good as the real thing? | There's a new meatless burger on the market -- find it at Whole Foods. 

"Unlike the cow, we get better at making meat every single day," said Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown, who previously taught biochemistry at Stanford University. "We have figured out an entirely new approach to making meat that gives us the ability to deliberately control and make improvements in flavor, texture, juiciness, appearance, cooking properties, shelf life, handling, cost of production, nutrition -- you name it."

Impossible Foods quietly launched this new gluten-free 2.0 burger on Monday, right in the middle of CES in Las Vegas. It will officially replace the older version on Tuesday. First it'll be available in about a dozen high-end restaurants across the US, and then roll out to all Impossible Foods partner restaurants in early February. The company plans to sell a raw version of the "ground beef" in grocery stores by the end of the year. The cost will be about the same as USDA premium ground beef, Brown said.

Impossible Foods isn't the only startup hawking meat and dairy products made from vegetables. Beyond Meat sells everything from plant protein "beef crumbles" to chicken strips, and New Wave Foods makes little fried shrimp out of plant-based protein and algae. Data from Nielsen and the Plant-Based Foods Association shows that sales of plant-based meats rose 24 percent in 2018, whereas sales of animal meats only grew by 2 percent in the same period.

The goal for Impossible Foods is to lessen the environmental impact of beef production on the planet. That's because cattle farming is resource hungry. Livestock factory farming uses 30 percent of the Earth's land surface and contributes to more than 18 percent of global greenhouse gases, according to the United Nations. But Impossible Foods can produce a burger using a fourth of the water and less than 4 percent of the land -- and emit one-tenth of the greenhouse gases -- than a conventional burger, Brown said.

"The whole mission of the company is to completely replace the use of animals as a food technology globally, by 2035," he said. "And that is unequivocally the most important mission in the world, full stop."

Why 2.0?

To achieve its mission, Impossible Foods needs to persuade burger lovers to stop eating meat. Dried-out black bean, quinoa, oat burgers won't do. Its burgers have to taste, smell and feel like meat.

By most accounts Impossible Burger 1.0 has been a success, but it does have a few issues. Its texture is a bit off -- more crumbly and drier than a traditional hamburger. And it can only be cooked on a restaurant-style flattop grill.

"It would totally fall apart," if you tried to throw it on a barbecue, Kliman said. "It would stick to the grill and just disintegrate."


Impossible Burger 2.0 was designed to be cooked on barbecue grills.

Mariel Myers/CNET

The same is true for cooking the faux meat in any dish other than a burger. Version 2.0 is more versatile and can substitute for ground beef in any recipe, Kliman said. Hence the spread of dishes she laid out for me to taste at the company's lab.

Not only can people use it for cooking Thai larb and beef skewers, it can be used in chili, dumplings, tacos, frittatas, meatloaf and sloppy Joes.

"Anything you can possibly think of, you can do," Kliman said. "You can cook it hot for a nice sear or low and slow."

Impossible Foods has been working on 2.0 over the last year. Along with trying to improve the beefiness of the product, the company has also lowered cholesterol, fat and calories. A 4-ounce burger is now about 240 calories -- versus roughly 290 calories in the first version, which is about the same as a beef burger. The new version is also gluten-free.

The company is additionally researching other products, like chicken, pork and fish. But for now, its main focus is beef. The next major product will likely be steak, Brown said, which will be a challenge. But he appears to be up to it.

"Everything we're doing is a huge challenge," he said. 

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