The Impossible Burger is a famous, meat-free burger alternative that reportedly manages to look, feel, and bleed like real meat. The “burger” is already being served in restaurants across America (including chains like Umami Burger and Bareburger) and is set to hit store shelves in 2019. According to many meat-eating tasters, it’s the veggie burger that most closely mimics the real thing. But just how does the Impossible Burger manage to taste so much like real meat?
According to the Impossible Foods website, the Impossible Burger is made from ingredients including wheat protein, coconut oil, potato protein, and heme. And that last one — heme — is the secret ingredient that makes the Impossible Burger taste so much like meat.
Red meat gets its color and unique texture from the same heme compound — though Impossible Foods gets its heme from entirely plant-based sources. Heme contains iron, giving meat that distinctive, iron-like taste. It's found in animal blood and muscle — which make up a good portion of the cuts used in ground beef. The heme in muscle is a part of myoglobin (which makes up the "blood" you think is coming from your juicy burger or steak) while the heme in blood exists in hemoglobin. Impossible Foods discovered that a certain plant compound contains heme, as well — leghemoglobin.
They learned to extract heme from plants and produce more of it using fermentation. While they could have extracted the heme directly from plants, using this fermentation process instead saves water and farmland. It also produces just an eighth of the greenhouse gases that would otherwise be required.
Of course, there’s more to recreating the flavor of beef than just adding in heme. Impossible Foods used other scientific procedures to identify the flavor profiles of real beef and imitate it to a tee. But heme does make a world of a difference — and is part of why you’ll likely see the Impossible Burger at some of America’s best vegan restaurants.