America loves its burgers. On average, each of us scarfs down three every week. A week. That works out to about 50 billion burgers every year. Lined up, those burgers would circle the earth 32 times—800,000 miles of burgers. The red in the flag may as well be a symbol for ketchup. But as the science mounts, our excessive beef consumption is not, in any way, sustainable.
Beef cattle require up to 11,000 gallons of water, every year. The methane they emit is about 10 percent of the world's greenhouse gases. Americans consume 270.7 pounds of beef, per person (which ranks us second, behind Luxembourg at 301.4 pounds). In 2010, about one-third of all cereals on earth went to animal feed, and the FAO predicts this figure hit 50 percent by 2050.
This is not a vegan manifesto. I am part of the problem. I love a good, juicy burger. But fact is, it's a terribly inefficient source of food, and it's not doing the planet any favors.
That's why Impossible Foods has raised over $250 million to fund the plant-based Impossible Burger, including investors like Bill Gates. It's gotten international headlines because it actually "bleeds" like a beef patty. And now it's finally starting to flood the market. David Chang is serving it at his New York restaurant, Momofuku Nishi. And in San Diego you can find it at Jayne's Gastropub, Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens, Brew30 at the Manchester Grand Hyatt, Pure Burger, and a few other spots.
The ingredients that makes it so meat-like is soy leghemeglobin, which gives it that meaty taste and results in the "blood." The thing that makes real beef patties taste like beef patties is heme, which gives it the color and metallic taste. In blood, that's hemoglobin. But now they've found heme in plant (leghemoglobin). But that wasn't good enough, because there are so many more chemical reactions that make a burger taste like a burger. So the researchers at Impossible Foods took real beef, heated it up, and when the aromas were released, they "captured" them by binding them to a piece of fiber. A machine isolated and identified as many of these individual compounds as it could. They essentially made a "fingerprint" of a real burger's flavor, and recreated that using plants. They use wheat protein to give it the firmness and chew. Potato protein keeps the moisture in. Coconut oil provides the fat. Some crazy, next-level science.
The Taste Test
Place: Brew30 at Manchester Grand Hyatt
Menu Description: Jalapeno tomato jam, smashed avocado, greens, brioche bun.
Sure as hell looks like a burger. Most veggie burgers look like someone dropped their granola under the tire of a moving car on a rainy day. Not the Impossible Burger. It has that trademark burger sear, its surface corrugated like the dark side of the moon. It's the most burger-looking veggie burger I've ever seen. It's quite a magic trick, like seeing an especially good drag queen. A spectacular mirage. The aroma is also more "beefy" than any veggie burger I've ever tried, but you notice a distinct difference—coconut. I'd read that they remove the scent of coconut before folding the fat into the patty, but there's a noticeable pina colada scent. The texture? Now that's the real trip. Like humans, most veggie burgers fall apart halfway through their lifespan. But the Impossible Burger chews like real beef, thanks to the pea protein. It stays together, it does retain that medium-rare hue. Whereas early veggie burgers were chunky or smeary, this is chewy and has resistance not too far removed from a Double-Double.
It's not a perfect doppelganger. Ideally down the road they can reduce the coconut scent without losing the essential fat. But that texture and chew are remarkable.
Some meat-eaters I know are annoyed with plants trying to imitate meat. Just be plants, they say. But I'm not offended. At the end of the day, at least real science and chef skill is going into plant-based options. At least your side dishes are tasting better, I tell them.
And the Impossible Burger is a mind-bender, a worthwhile pursuit given the fact we've got to live on this planet for a few more years.