Why you should care
Because you can save the planet while treating your tastebuds.
There’s a hush in the room when the waiter places my burger in front of me. Incongruous among my fellow diners’ dishes of oyster and quail, my humble meal has the real-life finish of a lusty McDonald’s ad — glistening bun; bulging, dripping burger; cheerful sprig of lettuce — and a dainty white flag that says IMPOSSIBLE in block capital letters. This fuss is unusual for a fine dining establishment, especially when the burger in question is 100% vegetarian. But this is no ordinary Facon.
The patty is the product of more than $182 million of investment and six years of research and development by Impossible Foods, a Silicon Valley startup. In typical Silicon Valley fashion, its goal is to save the world by making food more sustainable, and its vehicle of choice is a plant-based burger that should be so damn delicious — and indistinguishable from meat — that carnivores will willingly forgo their steaks.
The magic ingredient is heme, the molecule that makes blood red. It’s “abundant in meat, and what makes [the burger] taste so meaty,” says Jessica Appelgren, director of communications for Impossible Foods. It’s also found in soybean plants. After trial and error, Impossible Foods figured out how to transfer the protein to yeast, using a “fermentation process, often used in Belgian beer making” for mass production. But enough with the science — what really matters is the taste test.
The texture is thick, chewy, slightly tangy (I’d say moist if I didn’t hate that word so much).
Currently, the burgers are available at just 11 venues in New York and California only, often with a limited quantity per night, with plans to be in 1,000 locations by the end of 2017. My first bite was at Jardinière in San Francisco, better known for its proximity to the opera house and its James Beard Award-winning chef, Traci Des Jardins, than for its vegetarian fare. But I was concerned about being disappointed. As a 20-year vegetarian, I’m wary of hype, having seen contenders for the fake-meat crown rise and fall — and just because Bill Gates backs this burger doesn’t mean my tastebuds will.
The bun is deceptively large, and requires two hands. But then comes the flavorful juices; the texture is thick, chewy, slightly tangy (I’d say moist if I didn’t hate that word so much). The patty is edged in red and sizzles, quite unlike any soy or tofu product I’ve tried. It’s not quite bleeding, but it’s on the verge — the press may have coined the moniker “the veggie burger that bleeds,” but that’s an unofficial tagline. “It’s a product for meat lovers by people who understand meat,” Impossible’s head of brand explains.
Bloody or not, it’s delicious, and I resisted the urge to lick my fingers (it was a classy place, after all). However, my dinner date, a hardcore carnivore, didn’t agree. He says it tastes like meat … just not good meat. So it passes, but for a hefty $16 a pop (price varies at locations), that’s hardly a glowing endorsement.
On the plus side, my Instagrammed burger was convincing enough to have my friends ask, “Aren’t you a vegetarian?”