Shedding Light in the Darkness

The Veggie Burger That Bleeds

all-burgerBack in the mid-1970s when I stopped eating meat I thought it was a little weird that some companies would try to attract vegetarians by marketing fake meat products. Flash forward to 2017 and the Impossible Foods company is selling a “delicious burger made entirely from plants for people who love meat.”

The world loves meat states the company’s web site. But relying on cows to make meat is land-hungry, water-thirsty, and pollution-heavy. That’s why we set out to do the impossible: make delicious meats that are good for people and the planet.

It goes on: We spent the past five years researching what makes meat unique: the sizzle, the smell, the juicy first bite. Then we set out to find precisely the right ingredients from the plant kingdom to recreate the experience meat lovers crave. You’ve never tasted plants like this.

Wow. Can’t wait? Not me.

There’s rave reviews – “The patty sizzles like beef in the pan, which gets my appetite going,” Wall Street Journal. “You’re trying to do in meat, what Tesla did in electric cars,” Vox.

Here’s the San Francisco Chronicle – “The 20th century veggie burger was a beige patty packed with whole grains and carrot chunks, sold in a brown paper wrapper. The 21st century version? It’s bloody-pink and fleshy, thanks to heme, an ingredient created via genetic engineering. A new generation of Bay Area entrepreneurs upends the alternative meat and dairy industry, using biotechnology to create vegetarian foods that taste more like meat and promise ecological advantages to boot.”

The secret sauce which supposedly makes it seem/taste like meat (and bleed) has come under scrutiny. It’s made from soy leghemoglobin. So is this some part of the soy plant they extract from soy beans, maybe GMO soy? No, the company admits: “We genetically engineer yeast to make a key ingredient: heme.”

We start with the gene for a protein called leghemoglobin, a heme protein that is naturally found in the root nodules of soy plants. We add the soy leghemoglobin gene to a yeast strain, and grow the yeast via fermentation. Then we isolate the leghemoglobin, or heme, from the yeast.

The company submitted soy leghemoglobin to the FDA, who responded they couldn’t really say it was safe. The administration expressed concern that there’s no precedent for humans ingesting the substance, and Impossible Foods hadn’t yet done enough to find out about soy leghemoglobin’s potential to act as an allergen. The company argues that it’s safe because it’s structurally and functionally equivalent to “other widely consumed globin proteins.”

A worthy mission statement from the founder: “Our singular mission is to enable the world to continue to enjoy the foods they love and increasingly demand, without catastrophic damage to the environment. Our strategy was simple: invent a better way to transform plants into delicious, nutritious, safe and affordable meat, fish and dairy foods that consumers love. Then let consumers choose. If we do our job right, the market will take care of the rest. Commitment to the health, nutrition and safety of our customers is an inseparable part of our mission; it’s at the heart of why we exist, embedded in our ethos and everything we do.”

Here’s the full ingredient list – Water, Textured Wheat Protein, Coconut Oil, Potato Protein, Natural Flavors, 2% or less of: Leghemoglobin (soy), Yeast Extract, Salt, Soy Protein Isolate, Konjac Gum, Xanthan Gum, Thiamin (Vitamin B1), Zinc, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12.

I’m going to stick to my yummy organic Sunshine Burgers with ingredients I can trust.



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