The veggie burger that bleeds like real meat

A biochemistry professor has invented a meat-free burger that looks and bleeds juice just like the beef you cook on your grill.

Michelle Starr Science editor
Michelle Starr is CNET's science editor, and she hopes to get you as enthralled with the wonders of the universe as she is. When she's not daydreaming about flying through space, she's daydreaming about bats.
Michelle Starr
2 min read

The Impossible Cheeseburger Impossible Foods

Veggie burgers come in various kinds, and can be utterly delicious -- but they're no real substitute for their meat counterparts, if that's the burger experience you're looking for.

Meet the Impossible Cheeseburger. Its creator, Stanford biochemistry professor Patrick Brown, developed the burger out of nothing but plant ingredients, and looks just like the real thing.

Apparently, it also tastes like real meat -- and has a similar texture, according to the Wall Street Journal, which described it as a flavour cross between beef and turkey, leaving a blood-like moisture on the plate. It is also "slightly lighter, perhaps even fluffier, than a typical burger and it tastes less bloody. But the bites still have the consistency of animal tissue. It isn't overly spongy like tofu. Instead, the meat granules cling together, as one would expect in a burger."

This is achieved using a chemical compound known as heme -- a protein that can both be found in haemoglobin, the red pigment in blood, and the roots of nitrogen-fixing plants. These plants -- which include legumes -- are unable to extract nitrogen from the air on their own, so they enlist the aid of symbiotic bacteria called rhizobia, which live in their root nodules. These bacteria help the plants extract and store nitrogen.

Heme also contains iron which, when exposed to oxygen, turns red -- just like blood -- and also creates those meat flavours.

"[Heme] is basically 99 percent of the secret to meat flavor. Heme is the molecule that makes meat taste like meat. It's the reason meat tastes like nothing else. It's the reason why red meat, which has more heme, tastes meatier to people than white meat," Brown said.

Brown has created his own company, Impossible Foods, and hopes to inspire real change in the way we eat by offering a more sustainable alternative to meat, which consumes massive land and water resources and contributes significantly to greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

"[Meat farming] has terribly destructive environmental consequences and many scientists and doctors believe it's intrinsically unhealthy to eat meat," he said. "We have to effectively reinvent a whole system for producing food -- the end result being an unbelievably delicious product that can compete successfully against a product that people have loved for thousands of years."

Impossible Foods is not the only company seeking a solution. Last year, Mark Post of Maastricht University in the Netherlands unveiled meat grown in a lab from cow cells. Unlike Post's burger, though, which cost €250,000 to make, one of Brown's burgers costs a mere $20 to make.

Impossible Foods has secured $75 million in venture capital -- including funding from Google Ventures and Bill Gates -- so it may be possible that we see his veggie burgers on supermarket shelves in the not-too-distant future, as well as other vegetable-based meat substitutes.