Traditional veggie burgers made from combinations of soy, beans and lentils have a dry, crumbly texture that's nothing like beef. The Impossible Burger has changed that with its pink color, juicy dribbles, smoky flavor and the ability to get that characteristically charred crust that previously only a grilled beef burger could offer. Oh, and this meatless patty even bleeds like beef.
In fact, vegetarian CNET reporter Joan E. Solsman found it to be so meatlike that she couldn't even finish a sample. After not eating beef for more than a decade, she mumbled through a mouthful: "It's kind of grossing me out."
Watch this: Which plant-based burger is best? Impossible Burger vs. Beyond Meat Burger
What ingredients are in the Impossible Burger?
This unprecedented burger concoction is built on four ingredient foundations: protein, fat, binders and flavor.
The protein in an Impossible Burger isn't animal flesh; rather, it's a blend of soy and potato proteins. This is different from the Impossible Burger 1.0, which used wheat protein (Impossible Burger 2.0 is gluten-free). Soy has had a bad reputation with some, but Impossible's vice president of nutrition has some thoughts about the common soy myths.
The juicy sizzle when an Impossible Burger hits the pan or grill comes from coconut oil and sunflower oil, the burger's fat sources. To hold everything together, Impossible Foods uses methylcellulose, a bulk-forming binder that also serves as a great source of fiber.
Watch this: The Impossible Burger gets a beefy upgrade at CES 2019
As for flavor, well, this is where things get interesting. Impossible Foods employs heme as the main flavor compound in its burger. Heme is an iron-containing compound found in all living organisms. Plants, animals, bacteria, fungi... if it's alive, it contains heme.
In animals, heme is an important part of the protein hemoglobin, which carries oxygen throughout your body via blood. Know how your mouth tastes metallic when you accidentally bite your lip? That's heme.
In plants, heme still carries oxygen, just not via blood. The Impossible Burger contains heme from the roots of soy plants, in the form of a molecule called leghemoglobin. Food scientists insert DNA from soy roots into a genetically modified yeast, where it ferments and produces large quantities of soy heme.
GMOs also have a bad rap, but read what this scientist has to say about genetically modified organisms (TL;DR: GMOs don't cause cancer, autism or any other illness they're claimed to cause).
Impossible rolled out the Burger 2.0 in about a dozen restaurants shortly after CES 2019. Since then, the company has made its plant-based product available to all of its partners, and there are more locations serving the Impossible Burger in Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York City, Chicago and many other big cities.
And as of September 2019 -- after a much-anticipated waiting period -- you can find a "raw" version of the Impossible Burger at grocery stores. The company is starting with a small retail launch at 27 Gelson's locations across Southern California, noting that the retail rollout will probably look similar to the restaurant rollout: Just a few locations at a time will receive the product, and it'll eventually become available nationwide.
You can use Impossible Foods' location finder to locate Impossible Burgers at grocery stores and restaurants near you.
Watch this: Burger King's Impossible Whopper: see the technology that is making the impossible, possible
How to cook the Impossible Burger
Now that this meatless burger is available in grocery stores, you can try your hand at cooking it yourself.
Prices for an Impossible Burger vary from location to location, but these deceivingly meaty plant-based burgers generally cost more than a regular beef burger. At Red Robin, an Impossible cheeseburger costs $13.49, while the gourmet cheeseburger made of beef costs $9.99.
In grocery stores, the raw version is currently sold for $8.99 in grocery stores. We don't know yet if that price will stay the same as Impossible starts selling in other supermarkets. That's a little more expensive than the average price for lean ground beef, but might be worth it if you're on the hunt for a truly meat-like meat replacement.
Is the Impossible Burger safe to eat?
You can safely eat an Impossible Burger unless you are allergic to soy, coconut or sunflower. The ingredients in Impossible Burgers are simple and free of any toxic additives, flavorings or artificial ingredients. The soy-based heme is approved by the FDA as safe to eat.
While the Impossible Burger is perfectly safe to eat, other countries have cracked down on what kind of language companies can use to label faux meat products. In 2018, France banned the terms burgers, steaks, sausages, or fillets from labels on vegan and vegetarian substitutes for meat products. The move was intended to alleviate any confusion shoppers might have distinguishing fake meat from the real thing.
What's the deal with glyphosate?
Impossible Foods' burger is made from genetically modified soy, and its characteristic "bleed" comes from soy leghemoglobin (which later turns to heme) that's made from genetically engineered yeast.
The FDA approved the leghemoglobin as safe, and there's no proof that genetically modified organisms cause disease, but some consumers worry about traces of glyphosate in Impossible Burgers, which comes from those genetically modified soybeans.
Glyphosate is an herbicide that's been linked to a significantly increased risk of cancer, but the US Environmental Protection Agency says the herbicide "is not likely to be carcinogenic to humans." Conflicting evidence and statements abound across research studies and regulatory agencies.
In its unofficial company response to Moms Across America, Impossible Foods says the level of the herbicide detected is "almost 1000 times lower than the no-significant-risk level for glyphosate ingestion (1100 micrograms per day) set by California Prop 65."
The World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the US Environmental Protection Agency also have set safe daily limits for glyphosate exposure, but they are much higher than those of California Prop 65, so Impossible Burgers falls even further below the threshold for those agencies.
Is the Impossible Burger healthier than beef?
As far as calories go, an Impossible patty and a typical beef patty are pretty close. A 4-ounce Impossible Burger 2.0 patty is 240 calories, whereas 4 ounces of ground beef ranges from about 250 to 300 calories, depending on the fat content. Ground beef that is 10% fat has roughly 50 calories per ounce.
Because it's made from plants, the Impossible Burger contains a broader range of vitamins and minerals than beef does. But there is one thing no plant patty can match (yet) -- the protein content in animal meat. A 4-ounce serving of beef contains close to 30 grams of protein, while the Impossible Burger contains 19 grams.
Impossible Burger vs. Beyond Meat
Impossible Foods isn't the only company using plants in unconventional ways. Beyond Meat, another meatless meat company, makes burgers, sausages and crumbles out of plants. (Check out this list of meat alternatives for the grill.)
The Beyond Burger looks similar to the Impossible Burger in terms of color and consistency, but the Beyond Burger uses different ingredients. The main protein source in a Beyond Burger is pea protein, and its red color comes from beets. The beet juice is what gives the Beyond Burger the same "bleeding" effect as the Impossible Burger (Learn more: Impossible Burger vs. Beyond Burger).
Beyond Meat's burger is available in a few restaurants and in grocery stores nationally. The cost varies by location, but a two-pack of burger patties generally costs $5.99.
Why eat meat substitutes?
In terms of health, research tells us that high intake of animal protein, especially red meat, is linked to a higher risk of weight gain, stroke, diabetes and heart disease.
However, the benefits of meat substitutes extend past the health of humans; they reach as far as the health of our entire planet.
Production of meat from livestock is thought to result in 10 to 40 times the amount of greenhouse gas emissions as production of plant crops. And according to the Environmental Working Group, the livestock agriculture process required for meat products releases those gases -- as well as manure, fuel and pesticides -- into our air and water.
Additionally, livestock is Earth's largest user of land, with about 80 percent of all farm land attributed to animal agriculture. This holds serious implications for erosion, water usage and even grain consumption -- the grain that feeds livestock could feed 800 million people.
In sum, products like those from Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat have the potential to impact a few pertinent things: human health, environmental sustainability and global resources.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health provider regarding any questions you may have about a medical condition or health objectives.