LAS VEGAS — There’s nothing quite like taking a big bite of a juicy, medium-rare burger. And as I’m savoring every bite of my favorite restaurant’s flavor bomb of a burger (Emily in Brooklyn, in case you’re curious), I’m never thinking: “I’m contributing to the destruction of the environment?” As a former vegetarian, I know the effects that our societal reliance on beef has had on our health and our land. But I can’t go back to sad soy patties.Could you tell the difference?
So when I bit into the Impossible Burger 2.0, the new version of a popular beef substitute, I was prepared to be underwhelmed. The burger was artfully constructed, with avocado, salsa fresca and a smoky chipotle aioli. Top Chef Master Mary Sue Milliken had prepared the burger at Border Grill, her Mexican restaurant in Las Vegas. And you can’t go wrong with avocado and chipotle aioli. “Are the toppings just a disguise?” I thought.
But I was impressed when I sliced the burger in half to assess its preparation. (Medium-rare, perfectly pink, with juices that had soaked into the bun.)
And then I started chewing. The well-seasoned not-beef exploded with umami, and even more importantly, the texture was so close to beef that if I hadn’t known what I was eating, I would have happily assumed it was a cow. Vegans and vegetarians will likely cringe at the thought. As an omnivore who tries to keep meat consumption to a minimum but loves a great burger, I am this product’s target market. And every bite was delicious.
Editor's note, April 1: Burger King announced that it will make a vegetarian version of its Whopper made with Impossible Burger meat, starting in St. Louis this month and then rolling out nationwide. Burger chain Red Robin will also start selling an Impossible Burger at its 570 locations nationwide. If you want to taste the meatless burger, now's your chance.
The new Impossible Burger recipe solves the biggest problems diners had with the first-generation mix, namely the texture. It’s just plain beefier, said Impossible Foods Chief Science Officer David Lipman.
“This new product has better flavor, better texture — more of a chew — it has better nutrition,” Lipman said. “It has lower fat, lower sodium, higher quality protein. It is much more versatile. You couldn’t use the old product on a grill. In sauces it would tend to fall apart. The new product is pretty much how you would use hamburger.”
The new recipe derives its protein from soy instead of wheat, which makes it more nutritionally sound and gives it better texture. The flavor and color come from heme, a protein found in beef, a version of which is also found in plants. Impossible Foods genetically engineers and ferments a type of yeast to create a version of the heme protein that you can find in soybeans.
That process remains the same. But the improved texture and taste of the new soy-based recipe will make it more palatable to meat-eaters.
“It behaves in a way that you can make food that seems like it’s meat, but it’s not,” Milliken said. “That’s not exactly what a lot of vegetarians are looking for. This is a product that makes carnivores happy.”
That’s important, because vegetarians are already doing the heavy lifting when it comes to reducing their footprint on the environment, Milliken said. The rest of us just need to stop eating as much meat as we do. The goal of Impossible Foods is to eliminate our consumption of animals. But that’s not exactly realistic, Milliken said, especially when access to high-quality food hinges on how much money you have.
The Cost of Cutting Back
Impossible Burger 2.0 isn’t exactly cheap. Burgers made with the new recipe will be available in well-known restaurants nationwide by March, including Danny Bowien’s Mission Chinese Food in New York City, Michael Symon’s Ohio-based B Spot burger restaurants and Chris Cosentino’s Cockscomb in San Francisco.
At Hopdaddy in Scottsdale, Ariz., the Impossible Burger (using the original recipe) goes for $12.25. A classic burger made of Angus beef with the same basic toppings costs just $7.25. Eating responsibly has a high price tag.
But you’ll soon be able to buy Impossible Burger by the pound in grocery stores, so you won’t need to dine at high-end restaurants to try it. It doesn’t shrink when cooked, so you get more bang for your buck than buying traditional ground beef. And as Impossible Foods scales its production of Impossible Burger, the price will come down, Lipman said. For now, Impossible Foods is focused on convincing carnivores that faux meat can taste just as good without any of the guilt.
“For a meat-eater to like a veggie burger, you’re going to have to use some technology,” Lipman said.