I’ve always had an easy answer when asked what I’d choose for my last meal on this planet: a cheeseburger. Probably with grilled onions, perhaps with bacon, but give me a juicy burger cooked medium on a lightly toasted bun with a slice of sharp cheddar cheese, and I’ll run out the clock satisfied.
These days I try to avoid burgers, which I’m told is the sensible thing to do after you turn 40. So I was intrigued by the idea of the Impossible Burger, the plant-based meat-like substance from Impossible Foods that made its debut in Portland Friday after being introduced in several other cities around the country last year.
The Impossible Burger is made from a combination of wheat protein, coconut oil, potato protein, and heme, according to its site. Heme is the substance that makes meat taste like meat, and Impossible Foods figured out a way to produce heme from plants and incorporate it into their burgers.
The Impossible Foods people are really, really, really, really concerned that you might think that sounds like a veggie burger, as we learned when GeekWire editor Todd Bishop inadvertently referred to it as such during a series of emails with an Impossible Foods representative. I can understand that concern to some extent; after all, the average veggie burger would never be confused for a double-double at In-and-Out. So just to be clear, the Impossible Burger is a plant-based meat-like substance that I can confirm actually does taste like a beef burger.
Six Portland restaurants started serving the Impossible Burger on Friday, the first time the Bill Gates-backed startup has ventured into the Pacific Northwest. My wife and I got a chance to sample some of their creations Friday night at a launch party for the debut, and while I’ll probably still order a regular burger a few hours before the asteroid hits the planet, we were impressed.
My favorite was probably the version served up by JackRabbit, which I felt had the most flavor despite their puzzling and offensive decision to serve it with pickles. (I acknowledge that opinions will vary on pickles.) But on a ciabatta bun with gruyere, caramelized onions, and a nice aioli, there’s no way I would have guessed the origin of this burger.
For me, what set the Impossible Burger apart from other non-beef burgers I’ve tried was the texture, the exact right balance between a juicy interior and a seared exterior that really did taste like meat. At some level, you know you’re not eating beef: a few of the Impossible Burgers I tried had been heavily seasoned, to the extent that they reminded me more of turkey burgers than beef burgers. But anyone who walked in the back door of Plaza Del Toro and missed all the “meat from plants” signs at the entry way could be forgiven for assuming they’d walked into a burger cook-off.
My wife’s favorite (probably my second favorite) was made by Paley’s Place, which came with pickled vegetables, mustard aioli, caramelized onions, and house ketchup on a brioche bun. The version from Imperial was also quite good, with a tasty beer cheese sauce, and Irving Street Kitchen ventured outside the bun with “meat” pies in a nice flaky crust.
The idea behind Impossible Foods is to find ways to reduce the amount of beef consumed in the world, which is not only healthier for everyone involved but also reduces a ton of methane emissions and land use, as anyone who has ever driven past a big meatpacking plant is aware. The company has raised around $273 million in funding from the likes of Gates and several other blue-chip investors, and has expanded quite rapidly over the last year after spending five years perfecting the recipe.
Chefs can order the Impossible Burger in patties or in bulk, according to one of the chefs at the launch event Friday. The burgers were pretty good, but we walked away thinking about trying this in chili, in a pasta sauce, or maybe even taco night.
This is an interesting time for Impossible Foods: now that lots of people have tried the product and realized that it really does taste like beef, will it catch on as a mass-market product? Cockscomb, a San Francisco restaurant run by the chef behind Jackrabbit that was one of the first launch partners for the Impossible Burger, is charging $19 for its Impossible Burger.
That’s a little spendy for a burger, even by San Francisco standards. But as lots of people have realized over the past year, this ain’t your father’s veggie burger, and at some point that understanding could really make a difference in the global food chain as this crowded planet hurtles into the future.