Just when we were getting used to the idea of lab-grown meat that doesn't involve animal slaughter, someone comes up with completely vegetarian "hamburger meat" that looks, smells, and tastes just like the real thing, and includes all its protein, fat, and nutrients. What's a vegetarian who still craves the occasional slab of meat to do?
Impossible Burgers, manufactured by a company called Impossible Foods, use something called "heme" to mimic real meat's characteristics. It's the same natural compound that gives meat its flavor and smell as it cooks, though their heme is completely plant-based. It comes something called "leghemoglobin" found in soybean plant roots. If this all sounds familiar, it's because you may have heard of hemoglobin, a molecule in red blood cells. Hemoglobin latches onto oxygen and carries it to all the cells of your body, to help burn glucose, your body's primary fuel.
Looks like it may be time for us to start developing some kind of veggie label-meat label hybrid for frozen Impossibles before they hit the general market (our freezer labels are the best, after all). Of course, that may depend on how the FDA and other government agencies label the Impossible products themselves.
Impossible Burgers have been hailed as a safe alternative for vegans and vegetarians craving meat, and that's probably how it will be marketed. But PETA has already denounced Impossible Foods for their animal testing while developing the burgers. So while there may be no animal products involved, animal suffering occurred during the development, which would place it in the "non-edible" category for vegans. Some vegetarians, however, may be willing to try it. There really is no meat in these burgers.
Burger King is currently test marketing Impossible Whoppers in dozens of its St. Louis, MO outlets. The response has been positive among both meat-eaters and vegetarians who have tasted the Impossible Whopper, with most claiming they can't tell any difference at all between it and the meat version. So the good news is, it tastes great—it really does taste like real meat! That bodes well for home sales of Impossible products, as long as they're provided with durable freezer labels that make it clear that while they look, taste, and smell like meat, they're not.
Burger King has admitted that they use the same food production line for meat and Impossible Whoppers, so some contact with products containing meat will be inevitable. That contact may be minimal, but it's sure to turn off the few vegans who don't follow PETA's lead and who've been hoping for a good vegan fast-food burger. Some vegetarians may also be turned off, but given the minimal contact with real meat, most will probably be OK with it. We're eager to see how the testing turns out.
As long as it's labeled properly, we suspect the Impossible Burger will be a hit at vegetarian restaurants, or other restaurants willing to use a separate processing/cooking line for vegetarian/vegan products. So we're ready when they and their inevitable competitors come calling, looking for great labels for their new products!