A vegetarian and a meat eater weigh in.
When the Impossible Burger debuted in July 2016 at NYC’s Momofuku Nishi, it had everyone talking. And for good reason: the burger looks and cooks like ground beef from cows, but is made entirely from plant-based ingredients. What makes it different from its veggie burger predecessors is that it’s meant to entice meat-eaters—and subsequently improve the sustainability of the global food system. With its most recent debut at two award-winning NYC restaurants (one with a Michelin star), the Impossible Burger has made its way back into the headlines. So we tried it.
The company’s mission—to reduce the need for animal agriculture—is a worthy one. As the demand for meat and dairy increases (the global meat projection is expected to double by 2050, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization), so do greenhouse gas emissions, the volume of water needed to grow plants for livestock consumption, the amount of antibiotics manufactured, the sheer amount of land needed for the animals to occupy, etc. The Impossible Burger uses 75 percent less water, 95 percent less land, and emits 87 percent fewer greenhouse gases than a burger from cows.
Though the company is keen on reminding consumers that the product isn’t manufactured in a lab, it’s not exactly a recipe the average home cook could re-create. Ingredients include water, wheat and potato proteins, coconut oil, heme (the ingredient that makes it ’bleed;’ derived from the roots of soy plants), a range of micronutrients including zinc, vitamin B6, and riboflavin, xanthan and konjac gums (binding agents), salt, soy protein isolate (a highly processed form of fake protein) and yeast extract (contains a percentage of free glutamates or glutamic acids, and is often used to disguise the presence of MSG).
The burger tasted pretty true to its promise: juicy and greasy like meat, with a crispy exterior and a pink, rare-looking center. And how bad could it really be, considering it was served on a seeded bun with hot pepper aioli, white cheddar, watercress, frisee, and housemade relish. But as a vegetarian, I found it too similar to ground beef, to the point where I felt like I was eating a real burger. In fact, I missed the texture and flavor in the veggie burgers I’m used to consuming, which are made primarily out of beans, seeds, veggies, and grains. Our meat-eating editor was similarly turned off, despite the fact that she enjoys a traditional beef burger. Neither of us went back for a second bite.
After talking it out over a post-lunch slice of pizza (one bite of wheat protein hadn’t exactly satisfied our hunger), we came to this conclusion: a veggie burger shouldn’t have to mimic animal protein in order to convince even the most carnivorous consumer to enjoy it. If it’s good enough (and it’s possible!), the selling point should simply be that it tastes so delicious, everyone should try it.
Despite the fact that I won’t be ordering the burger again (it’s currently rolling out in restaurants nationwide, and the company eventually hopes to make it available for purchase in grocery stores, at or below the price of mass-market ground beef), I wholeheartedly support the company’s mission to reduce the amount of meat consumed globally. So try it for yourself—maybe you’ll enjoy its beefy taste.