Welcome to the Era of Plant-Based Meat

© Impossible Foods

By Justine Sterling Posted April 13, 2016

This burger looks like meat and tastes like meat—but it's made entirely out of plants.

Yesterday, chef Traci Des Jardins dropped by the Food & Wine Test Kitchen to make burgers. If you'd been present, you would have seen her form patties, season them with salt and pepper and sear them in a little canola oil. You would have seen fat emerge from the patties as they cooked. You would have smelled the scent of cooking meat. When she was finished, you would have tasted a perfectly medium-rare burger and thought, that’s a darn tasty beef burger. You would have thought wrong. Des Jardins wasn’t cooking beef—she was cooking Impossible Foods' Impossible Burger, a revolutionary new product that, if successful, might help save the world.

What is the Impossible Burger? Not a veggie burger, its makers say. They call it "plant-based meat," and it truly is far more complex and sophisticated than any existing non-animal patty. It contains coconut oil to simulate beef fat, which is solid until heated. It has potato proteins, which helps it achieve a beautiful crust when seared. And it's got heme, a compound that gives color to red meat, which the Impossible Foods team extracts from yeast. Welcome to the future, where a vegetarian burger can bleed like the real thing.

It even works for tartare, says Jardin. Raw, the “meat” is much more flavorful than ground beef, if a little chewier. And it has an advantage: no worries about food safety.

Nutritionally, the Impossible Burger is a lot like a classic beef burger (but with more protein and no cholesterol, hormones or antibiotics). Environmentally, there’s a bigger difference: According to Impossible Foods, making the plant-based meat uses 99 percent less land, 85 percent less water and emits 89 percent less greenhouse gas than traditional beef production. The company has attracted high-profile investors including Bill Gates.

In the future, Impossible Foods hopes to create all sorts of entirely plant-based meats and dairy products like fish, pork, chicken, cheese and yogurt. For now, though, they are focusing on launching the Impossible Burger, starting at restaurants in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York this July.

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