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Leon Kaye headshot

Impossible Foods' Vegan ‘Bloody Burger’ Hits NYC Food Scene

By Leon Kaye

Impossible Foods, the Bay Area fake meat start-up that's received millions in Silicon Valley venture funding, is now making a splash within the New York food scene. The completely plant-based burger that oozes a primal red color when squeezed is on the menu at one of Momofuku’s restaurants, the foodie blog Eater reported last week.

David Chang, the celebrity chef and cookbook author, was “blown away” when he tried the re-engineered fake burger that tastes, apparently, just like beef.

The ‘bloody burger’ made its debut at Nishi, Chang’s fusion eatery in the Chelsea neighborhood on Eighth Avenue. Nishi’s menu makes it clear that, for now, the burger is available only in limited quantities on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Chang touted the burger on his Tumblr page. The edgy chef, known for his “no reservations, no vegetarian options” ethos and penchant for F-bombs in his cookbook, repeated the same environmental statistics that Impossible Foods cites about this patty. The company claims its burger uses 95 percent less land, 74 percent less water and emits 87 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than its cattle-derived counterpart.

So what is the secret ingredient of this concoction, which includes wheat, coconut oil and potato protein? The heme molecule, part of the metalloprotein hemogoblin that gives blood its rich red color. Abundant in protein, it is a fundamental building block of animal and plant matter. Heme is much more difficult to extract from plant-based materials, yet Impossible Foods’ researchers have cracked that code. The result is a mixture that looks like meat, tastes like meat and, as this YouTube video shows, even sizzles like meat.

Impossible Foods is one of several fake meat start-ups that is scoring Silicon Valley buzz and dollars, while promising to disrupt the global food industry for the better. Beyond Meat, for example, makes a chicken breast alternative derived from pea powder and organic soy. The company’s eight-ounce packages of fake chicken strips has been in stores such as Whole Foods for several years, and recently rolled out its pseudo-beef Beyond Burger patties.

And those meat alternatives can be served with a side of Just Mayo from Hampton Creek, a San Francisco-based food technology company that produces vegan alternatives available for a competitive price at retail chains such as Target. Hampton Creek uses a varietal of yellow peas to mimic the creamy texture that eggs give to mayonnaise. The quality of the Just Mayo product line, and its parent company’s success, so worried the trade group American Egg Board that it lobbied the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to find a way to prevent Just Mayo from appearing on supermarket shelves. That effort failed, along with a lawsuit by Unilever, owner of the mayonnaise brand Hellmann’s, which charged that the egg-less product should not dare call itself “mayo.”

Impossible Foods and its competitors are serving up meatless options that are far better in taste and quality than the pallid options available a decade ago. And to find a convert such as David Chang means that this industry has a bright future ahead – and a tastier, healthier and more sustainable future for the rest of us.

Image credit: Impossible Foods

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye