The Future of the Veggie Burger is Juicy

Forget what you know about veggie burgers. Impossible Foods is one of two companies creating plant-based burgers that look, taste and bleed like real meat. Impossible Foods

Six years ago, Dr. Pat Brown and a team of researchers set out on a culinary Mission: Impossible. Their goal was to create an "uncompromisingly delicious" meat from plant-based materials. Last year, they debuted their Impossible Burger, which looks, tastes and bleeds like meat. In March, Impossible Foods announced its first partnership with a chain restaurant, Bareburger.

Bruce Friedrich, executive director of the Good Food Institute, a nonprofit that promotes sustainable foods, says Impossible Foods is one of two companies creating plant-based burgers that taste like meat. While veggie burgers have been around for decades, these sustainable food companies want to create meatless burgers that compete in the meat world, he explains. "What Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods did was say, 'Look, meat is made up of lipids and amino acids and minerals and water. There is nothing in meat that we cannot make from everything in plants.'"

Ashley Kleckner, Impossible Foods's director of marketing, ran a demo at Barebuger's flagship outlet, near New York University's campus, to show how plant-based materials are mixed to create the Impossible Burger. The first step is to extract wheat and potato proteins that give the burger "that meaty chew." Then comes the flavor: Heme, a chemical compound that exists in every living thing, is cooked with amino acids and sugar. Binders (xanthan mixed with konjac) hold the mixture together so it can be formed into patties. The last step is adding a little bit of soy and fat from coconut oil (deodorized so the burger doesn't taste like coconut). This fat makes the burger sizzle as it cooks.

J. Kenji López-Alt, managing culinary director of Serious Eats, has taken a bite out of both burgers. "These things are a big step up from previous faux-meat burgers, though they still have a way to go before they're going to fool anyone who eats meat critically on a regular basis," he says. "Tasted on their own, they have their problems, but served the right way—cooked and topped—they become more successful."

Impossible Foods has tested prototypes of pork, chicken, fish and dairy products and hopes to produce plant-based alternatives to these foods too. "Technology gives you an almost unlimited ability to keep optimizing on many levels," says Brown. "The locomotive was once equal to a horse before it surpassed it. Right now, we have a burger that runs even with the cow, but ours is running better every day."