On a rainy day in Seattle, Mike Wolf and I set off on a mission. We were going to sample the much-hyped Impossible burger. As a vegetarian who hasn’t tried a beef burger in 4 years or so, I was pretty psyched to sink my teeth into one of these look-alikes. But would it be everything I dreamed of?
Look at all of that excitement!
First off, a little background about Impossible Foods: the Silicon Valley-based millennial darling trying to make meat alternatives that are as good as the real thing. Their plant-based burgers are sweeping the country by storm, garnering a mega Instagram following and pretty favorable reviews. While the patties were originally available at only a few trendy restaurants, they’re now on menus in a lot of major cities.
Impossible patties contain wheat protein, coconut oil, potato protein and their ace in the hole: heme. An iron-containing compound found in blood, heme is what gives red meat that rich, umami taste. Impossible Foods’ scientists have found a way to extract heme from plants, which they hope will give their burgers a magic meatiness missing in so many veggie burgers.
Unlike plant-based burger competitor Beyond Meat, which is sold in grocery stores across the country, Impossible burgers are only available in restaurants. They premiered on the menu at celebrity chef’s restaurant Momofuku Nishi in 2016 and have since expanded to restaurants around the country. This business model might change, though, as their website hinted that they do have retail plans in the pipeline.
So did it live up to expectations? Mostly. The Impossible burger is definitely good: it’s savory, has a good texture, and even has that umami flavor that comes from red meat. I suppose that’s thanks to the heme, which is also what makes the Impossible burger “bleed” when cooked rare.
Don’t worry, we washed our hands first.
Sadly, ours was very well-done, so we couldn’t test the bleed. But that’s alright. The burger was still juicy, despite a seared, caramelized exterior. I was surprised by how much it reminded me of burgers of yore, and I even tasted a distinct animal-like funkiness (thanks, heme!). It wasn’t quite as chubby and rosy-tinted as the photos on their website, but it still beat my expectations. I didn’t even add ketchup, and I always add ketchup.
I also appreciated how fatty it was, chiefly thanks to coconut oil. Impossible isn’t trying to make a health-food burger—just one that tastes as good as meat. In fact, their patty has comparable levels of protein, iron and fat to an 80/20 beef burger, though it doesn’t contain cholesterol. This makes sense if they’re targeting a wide, flexitarian audience, instead of a health-conscious vegan one.
Of course, there’s the possibility that my perspective was skewed since I haven’t had beef in a few years. So Mike Wolf took a bite of each to compare and contrast.
The true taste test.
We got cheese on our burgers and, according to Mike, there wasn’t a huge difference between the two patties. In fact, if you topped your burger with bold flavors like blue cheese, special sauce, and pickles, you might not even notice that you weren’t chomping into a quarter pound of cow flesh.
The Impossible burger also had a delicious taste of self-righteousness. We all know that meat isn’t exactly great for the environment and that we should probably be reducing our beef consumption. Impossible’s website claims that by replacing one meat burger with one of their wheat protein-based patties, you’ll spare 75 square feet of land for wildlife, save water equivalent to a 10-minute shower, and spare 18 driving-miles worth of greenhouse gases.
Now for the downsides: Most notably, the Impossible burger is expensive. It cost an extra $4 to replace a beef patty with an Impossible one, at least at the restaurant we went to. That put the beef burger at $5.99 plus tax, and the Impossible burger at $9.99. Customize it with cheese and a topping or two, and things start to add up. It’s not a huge difference, but if they’re aiming to nab flexitarians price could be a big deciding factor.
In the end, I really enjoyed my Impossible burger experience. In fact, if someone suggests a burger night, I would go out of my way to find a spot that serves their patties (they have a map for that). Now if they could get started on making plant-based pulled pork, it would be much appreciated.