impossible burger impossible burger The Impossible Burger from California-based Impossible Foods is 100% meat-free and made from plants. (Photo: Impossible Foods)

Meat from plants? The ingenuity behind the 'Impossible Burger'

Impossible Foods, aiming for the 'hardcore meat eater,' has developed a plant-based burger unlike any other.

When was the last time you had a really incredible veggie burger that rivaled the real thing? Chances are that answer will come with a fair dose of hesitation. While certainly not unappetizing, meat alternatives taste exactly like their name implies – an alternative. They're the stunt doubles of the food world: close, but not quite as enjoyable as the real thing.

California-based Impossible Foods sees this gap between taste and appearance as a challenge worth tackling. Founded by Stanford biochemistry professor Patrick O. Brown, vegan celebrity chef Tal Ronnen from Israel, and cheese maker Monte Casino from Le Cordon Bleu in Boston, the company is poised to release a plant-based burger indistinguishable from the real thing. That's good news not only for your taste buds, but also for the planet as a whole.

So how does Impossible Food pull off the impossible? According to Brown, the process itself was years in the making, with his team researching at the molecular level what goes into creating the taste and texture of the burgers we love. Information in hand, they then went about replicating each molecule by sourcing them from a wide variety of plants.

"Every molecule in our burger," Brown told CNBC, "is something found in nature."

For instance, you know the red juice that comes out of real burgers? It's called heme, a molecule in hemoglobin that is found in high concentration in animals. Traditional veggie burgers naturally do not contain heme, a noticeable absence when compared to the taste of the real meat. As Brown and his team discovered, heme can also be sourced from legumes such as dried beans, peas and lentils.

"[Heme] is basically 99% of the secret to meat flavor," Brown explained to the Wall Street Journal. "Heme is the molecule that makes meat taste like meat."

The end result is a burger that not only taste like real meat, but also hits your plate with no cholesterol, antibiotics, hormones or E. coli.

Heme Impossible BurgerOne of the secrets to the Impossible Burger's taste lies in its inclusion of heme, a molecule found in animals that can also be derived from plants. (Photo: Wall Street Journal/Video screen capture)

If you're hungry for more, you're not alone. Impossible Foods and their cutting-edge technology has become increasingly appetizing to the international investment scene. In its latest round of funding, the company secured more than $108 million to help bring its burgers to market early next year.

Bill Gates, an early investor in Impossible Foods and other meat alternative startups, believes innovation in this industry is the only sustainable option for the future.

"Put simply, there’s no way to produce enough meat for 9 billion people. Yet we can’t ask everyone to become vegetarians," Gates writes. "That’s why we need more options for producing meat without depleting our resources."


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