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No Way!

Impossible Burger goes to the roots to create faux meat


BETTER BURGERS?  The secret to the Impossible Burger is leghemoglobin, which tastes like blood.
  • BETTER BURGERS? The secret to the Impossible Burger is leghemoglobin, which tastes like blood.

I have tasted the future of fake meat. Amazingly, it did not suck.

It's been two years since the Impossible Burger finally made its initial debut, after five years of buzz. From the beginning, the Redwood City, Calif.–based Impossible Foods, which makes the plant-based burger, had vowed to do what many considered the impossible: create a faux paddy that was indistinguishable from the real deal.

I'd heard it before, like when you hear a young fighter say they want to be world champion. Good luck with that. A desirable veggie burger is a legit culinary holy grail.

Impossible Foods wants you to believe in a plant-based utopia where vegans would no longer have to fake their hamburgasms, and the occasional carnivore might blush a pinker shade of medium. The company intends to heal the trauma buried in bellies of those who have tried to love a veggie burger, and lubricate the mouths of the most die-hard, unrepentant lovers of meat.

The patty is built from a protein-heavy base of wheat, coconut and potato-based ingredients. Crucially, it also contains a plant ingredient that tastes almost exactly like animal blood.

This secret weapon is called leghemoglobin, and it tastes like hemoglobin, the thing in animal blood that carries oxygen to cells. Leghemoglobin is short for "legume-hemoglobin," and is produced in special nodules on the roots of legume plants like peas and beans.

When I first heard about Impossible Burger and leghemoglobin, I went to a neighbor's garden and, with permission, harvested some pea plants. I located some nodules on the roots; they were pink inside. As I washed them, I wondered if they tasted like blood. And they did. That big metallic flavor. The taste of being punched in the face.

Alas, most of us don't currently live within striking distance of an Impossible Burger outlet. Nor do most of you live within striking distance of tasty animals that can be legally harvested, without taking a negative toll on the environment. So for the moment, most aspiring herbivores remain stuck in the familiar spot between various flavors of mush, some of which can be quite tasty.

Today's recipe is one such mush, an adulterated version of a red curry lentil recipe from the book Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi. If food like this were my only source of protein, I'd probably be OK.

This dish doesn't look or taste anything like meat, nor does it attempt to, which is refreshing. Let's hope the next Tofurky I see will be at the Smithsonian Museum. But if the Impossible Foods people ever figure out bacon, they can call me ASAP.


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