Since 2016, the Impossible Burger has touted itself as the totally plant-based burger that bleeds. In those two years, the Silicon Valley startup has built a legion of fans who swear it’s the best alternative to red meat — a burger that actually tastes just like a burger, with a fraction of the carbon footprint the beef industry leaves behind.
The secret is heme, a protein found in animal blood. Heme is what gives meat its distinct sizzle and smell, and as Impossible Foods discovered, it’s also abundant in the roots of soy plants. The company genetically engineers heme through fermentation, in a process that has earned lots of attention and some scrutiny. Once the heme is created, it is mixed into a combination of coconut oil, wheat, and potato protein to form the patty. Although it doesn’t contain a single animal product, the Impossible Burger is supposed to sizzle and bleed like beef, thanks to the magical properties of heme.
I was curious to see this bleeding plant patty, but I had my doubts. I’m not a vegetarian or a vegan, and never have been, not even for a month-long trial run. But I have been trying to eat less meat and after hearing a few coworkers rave about the Impossible Burger, I decided to stop by one of the 32 Manhattan restaurants that serves it. I brought those coworkers along to weigh in.
We went to 5 Napkin Burger, which prepares the Impossible Burger with a classic burger spread of lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, and a house sauce. When the burgers came out, they certainly looked the part. The patty had none of the strange coloring, flecks, or smells you sometimes find with other veggie or vegan burgers. On sight alone, I’d assume it came from a cow.
Upon first bite, I was pretty impressed. Impossible Foods nails the texture of a beef patty and the taste is remarkable. “This gets the closest to red meat of all the veggie burgers I’ve tried,” said Mike, our vegetarian video editor who was also trying out the Impossible Burger for the first time. More coworkers murmured their assent as they munched on the coconut oil, potato, and wheat combo.
But something was just slightly off. I found myself gulping down glass after glass of water as I got further into the burger, which somehow felt denser, or at the very least, less juicy, than a traditional burger. This thing definitely wasn’t bleeding, either. I did an informal poll around the table and found that, although almost everyone acknowledged it was a good imitation, our patties were maybe a little overdone. Only David, our CEO, managed to snag a bleeding burger — and he was super smug about it.
For the sake of journalism, I thought I should give the Impossible Burger another shot. This time, I’d ask for it rare, something I basically never do. (I’m a strictly medium girl.) I headed solo to Bareburger, which dresses its Impossible Burger in dill pickles, lettuce, caramelized onions, American cheese, and a special sauce.
When my rare burger arrived, I immediately noticed a difference. It still wasn’t quite bleeding, but it was redder, juicier, and overall a much better experience. People who are used to eating beef might still detect a slightly chalky, rather than salty, aftertaste. But I managed to wolf down my burger in 10 minutes, and got to avoid the usual heartburn that comes with beef.
The Impossible Burger seems to be the future of vegan meat and if that’s the case, the future is looking pretty bright. The patty has hit fast food chains like White Castle and is currently available to order in more than 1,000 restaurants nationwide, plus Hong Kong. If you’re a meat eater looking to cut back, the Impossible Burger is an easy, tasty swap to make — just make sure to slather it in sauce and order it a little pink, maybe even red.
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