Many would agree that veganism is a wonderful thing.
Not only is this diet independent of the unethical reality of animal farming, but it’s also much more resource efficient and generates fewer emissions. On top of that, veganism is supposedly better for our health, as it is free of the obscene levels of antibiotics we often give animals in order to raise them in the kinds of crowded conditions we do.
Veganism seems like a no brainer. Particularly in this day and age of social awareness, climate change, expanding populations and health consciousness.
But here’s the thing: veganism isn’t for everyone. Often, meat is just too darn good to resist.
And as meat lovers everywhere would say, they’ve yet to taste a veggie burger that even remotely compares to the tender existence of the classic USDA beef patty.
Veggie burgers just altogether lack that quintessential texture, juiciness, crispiness, taste and overall aroma of meat that we have come to know and crave. A veggie patty will never replace the American hamburger. That would just be impossible.
Well, until one does :).
The Impossible Burger
Impossible Foods, led by Dr. Patrick O. Brown recently produced the Impossible Burger. It’s a burger that looks, tastes and smells like meat but is not whatsoever composed of meat (I know meat eaters, you’ve heard this one before, but just stay with me for a second).
It garners it’s beef like persona from a key ingredient: heme.
Heme is a molecule contained within the myoglobin protein and is responsible for transporting oxygen around an animal’s bloodstream. When a burger is cooked, the myoglobin protein opens up and the heme is released to catalyze reactions responsible for a burger’s reddish hue, juicy texture and mouthwatering aroma. In essence, it gives meat its distinctive many of the qualities we find irreplaceable — it’s why we love meat.
So, why don’t we just put that heme in a veggie patty?
Amongst vegetarian foods, heme is most commonly found as leghemoglobin in the roots of soybean plants. However, it does not exist in high enough quantities to achieve the same effects as in meat.
So instead of looking to an existing vegetarian protein for heme, Impossible Foods decided to produce it on their own. How?
- They extract the DNA of a soybean leghemoglobin and transplant it into yeast microbes.
- Yeast (which is kind of like a mini factory that makes carbon copies of its own DNA) then generates mass amounts of the heme molecules.
- They filter the whole solution in order to remove the yeast and are left with pure heme.
Now, of course, heme alone isn’t the solution. The other lovable characteristic of meat is the fat. Fat is typically marbled into the muscle, but as a hamburger is cooked, it will melt homogeneously throughout the patty. As a substitute, coconut chips were integrated into the patty so as it heats up, the fat will melt through the burger and sizzles on the pan.
In order to simulate the meat’s crispy and charred exterior, scientists used potato protein which firms up throughout the burger and browns on the outside when exposed to heat.
The remainder of the burger is mostly made up of textured wheat protein after it’s been put through a food processor to give it a chewy texture similar to that of meat.
So, why the impossible burger?
Well, it’s no secret that our current meat production system is inefficient. Not only is it massively cruel to animals, but it is also resource and energy intensive — it is responsible for over 18% of our total global greenhouse gas emissions.
With global population on the rise and our changing climate systems, we need a diet that is not so taxing on the environment. Asking everyone to just abandon meat is just unreasonable because well, we as humans were designed to eat it — or designed to love it’s experience which up until this point has been irreproducible.
The impossible burger was designed with meat lovers in mind — it replicates the flavours and aromas of the stuff many have come to love. But, it requires only 25% of the water, 13% of the greenhouse gas emissions and 5% of the land to make as a conventional hamburger.
Much of our modern farm animals are raised with obscene amounts of antibiotics in order to prevent the outbreaks of infectious bacteria common in the cramped spaces they live in. Humans end up ingesting these antibiotics, which isn’t healthy. The impossible burger does not rely whatsoever on such antibiotics making it better for long term health.
In recent years, a technology known as cellular agriculture has emerged which is based on growing animal products without the animal. This technology, would, in essence, make a hamburger plain and simple without a cow. The biggest challenge? It’s expensive. Currently, it costs about $50,000 to produce just one kilogram of meat in this fashion. Needless to say, it’s not exactly ready for the consumer market.
The Impossible Burger, on the other hand, costs about $12 fully dressed with a side of fries.
The Impossible Burger has attracted millions in funding from prominent and forward thinking figures such as Bill Gates, Temasek and Khosla Ventures. So, there you go meat eaters, you really don’t have to give up the classic taste of hamburgers in order to lessen your impact on the environment. In fact, you can be a perfect vegan at the same time.
It seems so good, it just might be impossible :).