The Impossible Burger: How non-meat protein products are making their way onto our plates

Before the ‘90s, meat alternatives were hardly popular in restaurants. The focal point of the dinner table was protein—usually chicken, beef, or pork.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and it's hard to imagine having just one type of protein option. Think about it: There are meatless chicken fingers, seitan “steaks,” pulled BBQ jackfruit, and countless other options for the non-meat-eaters of the world. And among these is a creative and scientific new invention called the Impossible Burger.

The burger is just one of the many products from California-based company Impossible Foods that are aimed at reducing consumption of animal products and lessening the negative environmental impacts of meat consumption.

“The Impossible Burger is the product of multiple years of research to recreate the entire experience and science behind meat and how it tastes, cooks, sizzles and smells,” said David Lee, Chief Operations Officer at Impossible Foods. The result is a tasty, juicy burger made of wheat protein, coconut oil, potato protein, and heme.

Heme is a protein found in every plant and animal product, and the high quantities of the molecule in animal tissue are responsible for that flavors that make meat taste "meaty." Impossible Foods found a specific heme source, located in the roots of legumes, and mixed it with plant proteins, fats and other ingredients to impart that same meaty flavor to its non-meat products, inspiring other big-name corporations to quickly follow suit — like Nestle, which acquired meat-free purveyor Sweet Earth Foods; and Tyson Foods, which invested in plant-based burger company Beyond Meat. 

“We believe that the food industry’s timeline and trajectory has created a massive desire for plant-based foods like the Impossible Burger,” said Lee. “Plant-based meats will play a vital role in solving one of the planet’s most pressing challenges: sustainably feeding 9.7 billion people by 2050 while consuming far less of the earth’s precious resources.”

Since the inception of Impossible Foods, over a thousand restaurants have begun serving the Impossible Burger—including Umami Burger, which has a partnership with the company. They've also reimagined the product for other dishes. “Celebrity chefs have transformed the Impossible Burger into a chow fun noodle dish, a meatball sub, a taco salad and much more,” Lee added.

According to the company's research, if Americans replaced 50 percent of ground beef from cows with Impossible meat, trillions of gallons of water would be saved, millions of tons of carbon would be preserved, and thousands of miles of land would be restored for livestock.

It may be no surprise, then, that countless other companies are hopping on the bandwagon to provide customers with choices for meat-free dining. Now, the options don’t only serve vegans and vegetarians; they’re a healthy, delicious alternative for anyone looking to add variety to their diet or wanting to help the environment.