The 100 percent animal-free Impossible Burger made its restaurant debut last week at Momofuku Nishi.
The burger is an $80 million project led by Patrick O. Brown, M.D., Ph.D., founder and CEO of Impossible Foods Inc. The Redwood City-based company focuses on creating plant-based foods that have a lower environmental impact than animal-based ones—and still taste delicious.
Its newest product looks, cooks, smells, tastes, and even bleeds like ground beef, but boasts a completely plant-based ingredient list, backed by extensive scientific research into what makes meat taste, feel, and act like, well, meat.
The star of the show is heme, an iron-rich protein found in both animals and plants. It’s what gives the burger that characteristic meaty taste and bloody red color.
When the burger is cooked, legume-derived heme catalyzes processes that transform a soup of basic molecules—amino acids, vitamins, sugars, and simple fats—into “literally hundreds of volatile compounds that are the unique, unmistakable, craveable flavor of meat,” Brown said. It’s the same process, he explained, that gives animal meat its flavor.
Other key ingredients also play important roles: wheat protein provides chew and a slightly fibrous texture, coconut oil lends richness and highlights fat-soluble flavors, and potato protein adds juiciness and helps the burger firm up when cooked. The result is something that behaves remarkably similarly to ground beef. It hits the pan with a satisfying sizzle—and unmistakably meaty aroma—and even browns around the edges as it cooks.
But compared to a burger produced from a cow, the Impossible Burger takes a quarter of the water, one-twentieth of the land, and one-eighth of the greenhouse gas emissions to produce.
So, how does it taste?
In short: good. The browned crust is crispy and delicious, on par with the sear on a meat patty, and gives way to a juicy and convincingly “bloody” inside. It stands on its own as a solid burger. But when held up against its animal counterpart, it falls short. The texture is off, with an ever-so-slightly rubbery bite, and the flavor doesn’t quite nail the rich, fatty umami of a beef burger. It comes impressively close, and marks a groundbreaking feat for the plant-based foods industry.
If you want to try one for yourself, head to Momofuku Nishi, where a limited number of Nishi Style Impossible Burgers will be available for brunch, lunch, and dinner. Chef David Chang’s take on the burger is topped with romaine, beefsteak tomato, pickles, and special sauce and served on a Martin’s potato roll with a side of shoestring fries for $12.