Update: the latest version of the Impossible Burger is now made gluten free without wheat, which is a welcome change. Thanks to our readers for bringing this to my attention.
The Impossible Burger is environmentally friendly, that much cannot be disputed. Raising cattle the way we do does real damage to our planet, and it has to stop, at least at its current trajectory. The industrial farming system is unsustainable, environmentally ruinous, and cruel to both animals and humans alike. Companies like Impossible Foods that create tasty plant based comfort food are badly needed.
However, Vegan junk food is an issue and just because it’s made of plants doesn’t mean it’s good for you.
Impossible burger designed to look like real burger
The Impossible Burger is designed to look and taste just like a real burger. This means the inventors were challenged to use plant matter to make a moist, “bloody” patty, with the same texture as real meat. To be fair, I must admit the Impossible Burger is reminiscent of a real burger, it has a texture and color that looks like ground beef. The aesthetic is impressive. The problem is that it uses ingredients that could be just as bad for some people’s health as eating a real burger every now and again.
In fact, there was some controversy as to whether the FDA would even approve the ingredient, called soy leghemoglobin, that makes the Impossible Burger “bleed.” Soy leghemoglobin releases a protein called heme which gives the burger it’s meat like traits.
Heme is not leghemoglobin
Is soy leghemoglobin safe? Very likely, yes.
The Impossible Burger team did feed unbelievable amounts of soy leghemoglobin to rats and found there were no adverse effects over a 28 day period.1
We don’t have studies in humans to see how people will react to the ingredients in the Impossible Burger.
It’s also worth noting that leghemoglobin, hemoglobin and myoglobin are not the same thing. They might all function to bind oxygen but they do all have a different structure. So, leghemoglobin is not the exact same molecule found in actual meat. They are similar but not identical.
Genetically modified microorganisms
According to this Wired Article, “one acre of soybeans yields just a kilogram of soy leghemoglobin,” so the Impossible Burger team created a workaround.
Wired does a good job of summing up the process:
Technicians take genes that code for the soy leghemoglobin protein and insert them into a species of yeast called Pichia pastoris. They then feed the modified yeast sugar and minerals, prompting it to grow and replicate and manufacture heme with a fraction of the footprint of field-grown soy.
And I do think this is an important distinction to make here. The Impossible Burger doesn’t just use genetically modified ingredients, it produces its key proteins using genetically modified microorganisms. I am not saying that is necessarily a bad thing, it may be a necessary thing in light of what animal agriculture is doing to the environment.
Impossible Burger Ingredients
Update: gluten is no longer an issue. The Impossible Burger 2.0 is now made without gluten.
Water, Soy Protein Concentrate, Coconut Oil, Sunflower Oil, Natural Flavors, 2 percent or less of: Potato Protein, Methylcellulose, Yeast Extract, Cultured Dextrose, Food Starch Modified, Soy Leghemoglobin, Salt, Soy Protein Isolate, Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E), Zinc Gluconate, Thiamine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B1), Sodium Ascorbate (Vitamin C), Niacin, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (Vitamin B6), Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12.