Patrick Brown, biochemistry professor at Standford who is heading research, claims that “livestock is an antiquated technology” in an interview with the Wall Street Journal. The quest to find meat alternatives in order to promote more sustainable modes of food production has been the driving force for a number of start-ups similar to Impossible Foods.
The veggie burger is their biggest accomplishment yet. And this isn’t your average quinoa-bean patty substitution – these scientists are looking for ways to truly replicate meat, not just replace it. To figure this out, the scientists conducted a variety of experiments from grilling meat in order to analyze smells, to deconstructing all the individual compounds that make up the flavor of cooked steak.
The crazy discovery? It’s all due to heme – a compound found in hemoglobin, the pigment in blood that makes it red, and that apparently is a key component to the flavor profile of meat. Turns out, plants have heme too. Brown and fellow researchers played around with the compound and found a way to turn it into a pseudo “vegetable blood”, crucial to the development of the patty.
The burger thus has the mouth-feel, texture, and look of bleeding ground meat, even caramelizing like a burger usually does on the grill. The flavor still needs some toying around with, resembling turkey meat more than prime-cut beef.
The research brings up a number of questions. Is the burger amazing or gross? Beneficial or questionable? While a plant-based patty does disrupt the animal agriculture industry, it still takes an insane amount of effort and costs about $20 per burger to make. Is that enough to discourage regular meat-eaters from the conventional meat patty in favor of a more plant-based-diet? And, if it’s so expensive, what does this mean for its future in terms of a mass-produced, accessible food commodity?
In any case, I can say that I am very intrigued by Impossible Foods’ impressive feat, if not dumbfounded by the crazy science that goes on covertly. As a burger lover, I for one would love to get the chance to try the lab-made meal some day.
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