A plant-based burger that is designed to look, cook, smell, sizzle and taste like a real beefburger has gone on sale for the first time in the US.
But after years in the making – and with a $180 million investment behind it – does The Impossible Burger, marketed as ‘the world’s most anticipated burger’, really pass as a believable substitute for real meat?
FEMAIL joined the queues outside David Chang’s Momofuku Nishi, in Chelsea, New York, to taste the $12 burger and see what diners really make of it.
The high-tech burger was created by biologist Pat Brown with his start-up Impossible Foods, whose investors include Khosla Ventures, Bill Gates and Google Ventures, with the aim of making a fake meat burger that tasted so good that people would choose it over a normal patty.
In the autumn, the company also plans to take its creation to San Francisco, adding that the burger is ‘only the beginning’.
Following the launch at Momofuku Nishi, the business now plans to help create a ‘new kind of global food system’ to offer consumers plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy to make supplies ‘more resilient’.
Since the ‘animal-free’ burger first went on sale in Manhattan on Wednesday – the first time it has regularly appeared on a restaurant menu – it has been attracting the attention of the world.
Currently the burger is only available between 12pm and 3pm and a ‘limited number’ between 5.30pm and 7pm.
When I arrived just before 5pm on Thursday there was a line of four people standing outside the restaurant waiting to try the burger. But by the time we were allowed into the restaurant half an hour later, the queue was snaking down the street.
I was surprised to find that many of the people queuing to try the burger were not vegetarian or vegan. Lots of the people were there either out of curiosity or for environmental reasons or simply to try New York’s latest food craze.
Dockworker Johnny Eggz, 46, and his wife Christa McNamee, 43, an assistant, from East Village said they were interested to see whether the claims about the burger were true.
While Johnny described himself as a ‘carnivore’ he said he would be interested in a meat alternative if it actually tasted like meat.
He said: ‘I saw it on the internet a year ago that it was being invented. I’m just curious, I’m actually a carnivore.’
Christa added: ‘If you can enjoy “meat”, rare “meat”, and it not be from an animal source and it tastes right, why would you eat meat?…
‘My husband would never be vegetarian but if he could have a rib-eye and it tasted like an animal then he would eat it.’
As a vegetarian, Jose Garcia, 23, said he would normally opt for either quinoa, a rice-based dish or a bean burger instead of a beefburger.
The retail manager from Queens said: ‘I heard about it through a friend who saw an article about it online.
‘I wanted to try it because I’m vegetarian. I don’t really miss it but just want to try something.’
Stephan Xue, 25, a medical student who is currently staying in Brooklyn, said he was attracted by the ‘novelty’ rather than any conscience or diet-related motivations.
‘There are a lot of people talking about it so I thought I would check it out,’ he said.
Considering the hype, getting into the restaurant was surprisingly pain-free. Although the restaurant was soon full, they said so far everyone who wanted an Impossible Burger had got one and I was served within seconds of sitting down.
The burger’s main ingredients are water, wheat protein, coconut oil, potato protein and leghemoglobin (or heme) and it also contains natural flavors and micronutrients.
The restaurant said the ‘meat’ arrives in the equivalent of ground beef and the patties are formed in the kitchen.
As well as being meat-free, the burgers do not contain cholesterol, hormones or antibiotics – while still providing consumers with a similar amount of protein and iron as beef would.
The company said one of the breakthroughs that gives the burger its unusually meaty quality is the discovery of a molecule called ‘heme’ which is said to be what makes it look, cook and taste like meat. They replicated the molecule using a plant-based heme protein.
I am gluten intolerant, but by the time I clocked that the burger contained gluten I was sat in the restaurant so I decided to risk the consequences in the name of groundbreaking food science and order the burger, leaving out the bun.
Sitting close to the kitchen, the scent of cooking beef burgers was in the air and when my tray arrived, the dish in front of me truly smelt like a beef burger.
Presented on a metal tray covered in paper decorated with peaches, the restaurant’s logo, the burger was served with romaine lettuce, beefsteak tomato, pickles and a ‘special sauce’ on a potato roll with shoestring fries. For an extra dollar you can also add cheese.
The experience was pleasurable but also unnerving. Sitting on the tray, it looked like a genuine burger and the sides and insides appeared pink like a rare beefburger.
As I picked it up, it smelt like meat and as I put it into my mouth it tasted like beef on my tongue and the flavor was instantly moreish.
But when I began to chew, although it continued to taste delicious, something in the bite of the patty shattered the illusion of beef.
Regardless of whether it was passable as a real beefburger, as the man next to me said: ‘It wouldn’t fool me but it’s the best veggie burger I’ve ever had. A crave-able veggie burger.’
Other diners on the other hand were completely sold – claiming they could have mistaken it for beef.
Justine Soto, 27, who co-owns a plant-based vegan food company, Peaceful Provisions, and has been vegan for two years, said it could have fooled her.
She said: ‘I’m quite satisfied. It’s got a great texture, great flavor, it kind of touches on things that mock meat things lack, it’s more authentic.
‘I wasn’t a huge burger fan before going vegan so I’m satisfied.’
If did not know it wasn’t meat: ‘I would be hesitant and double check it was vegan, this would definitely fool me.’
Norelle Swift, 35, a musician from Queens, Added: ‘It’s really good. It does [taste like meat] for the most part.
‘Not exactly, but it’s the closest vegetarian, vegan burger I’ve had that tastes close to meat.’