Food

Why Plants Make For A Bloody Good Burger

by Leah Kirts

July 28, 2016

Crisp lettuce, juicy tomato, a spongy bun lavishly smeared with mayo, and slices of cheddar cheese melting over the top of a thin patty. The white paper-bagged burger, flanked by a crisp, golden mound of thin-cut fries, could have been part of any meal at any burger joint in nearly any city, but it was anything but ordinary. Most have called it impossible.

The Impossible Burger made its public debut Wednesday at New York City’s Momofuku Nishi, the only one of David Chang's restaurants to offer the much-hyped vegan meat on its menu.

What caused a notorious meat-loving chef such as Chang to make room for a veggie burger on his menu (and for the reasonable price of $12)? It all began with a plant-based company called Impossible Foods, who claims its “meat on a mission” will revolutionize your taste buds, and maybe even save the planet.

A few months ago, Chang sampled the company’s meaty masterpiece and famously announced, “Today I tasted the future and it was vegan,” praising the Impossible Burger for its juicy, plant-bleeding texture that gives ground beef a run for its money.

By creating affordable meat from plants (that tastes eerily similar to beef), Impossible Foods founder Pat Brown believes he can change the world.

The companies mission is simple: “Make really really delicious meat that’s good for people and good for the planet. No compromises.” Thanks to its approach, the team can create its meat substitute using 95 percent less land, 74 percent less water, and with 87 percent less greenhouse gas emissions than beef. 

If the promise of its savory taste and positive environmental impact aren’t enough, how about the nutritional punch it packs? According to Brown, the plant meat (made of wheat, coconut oil, potato protein, and heme—AKA plant blood) contains more protein and iron than animal alternatives.

If you live in New York City, now you can taste and see the revoluntionary product for yourself. On Wednesday, just before its doors opened at noon, the Momofuku Chelsea location had already drawn a crowd of about 40 people, including me. We all lined up, awaiting our chance to taste the infamous plant burger that bleeds. Chang watched from across the street as the line of hungry eaters wrapped around the corner of 22nd street and 8th Ave. The suspense was sizzling.

Our mission is simple: make really really delicious meat that’s good for people and good for the planet

The lunch wait quickly climbed to an hour after the first wave of diners filled the restaurant to capacity. Burgers were brought out on small silver trays lined with peach-dotted white Momofuku paper. Our party of four—a vegan (myself), a part-time omnivore, a meat lover, and a zealous burger aficionado (and Chang enthusiast)— was seated and the moment of truth quickly arrived. We dug into our burgers, and all agreed: the texture was spot-on. The burger was meaty and delicious, though the thin patty a little dry.

The burger doesn't leech grease or hit you with that heavy after-burger coma like a thick ground beef one does. But there were a few drawbacks.

“It looks like a burger,” our resident burger expert weighed in after taking a hearty bite. “It smells like a burger.” He closely inspected the layers of lettuce, tomato, cheese, mayo, and patty in-between the bun. “My first thought is that it's an overcooked burger...I'd prefer a real burger, but I'd definitely eat this again."

The self-proclaimed meat lover chimed-in. "It reminds me of an In-N-Out burger. It's light, fresh, and very delicious. The perfect amount of filling but not too heavy. Doesn't make me feel sluggish and I like the layering of flavors.” He paused, took another bite, then blurted out, “I eat meat every day, and I’d eat this. It's freaking awesome!"

I’d actually eat this instead of a beef burger because it feels healthier but is still really delicious

Our omnivore agreed. This patty may be on the thin side (likely given the limited supply of Impossible meat), but it isn’t greasy and has a texture that is convincingly beefy. “I’d actually eat this instead of a beef burger because it feels healthier but is still really delicious,” she insisted.

As a vegan, I wasn’t grossed out by some ultra-beefy smell or taste. In just an hour, the restaurant had already run out of vegan buns, so mine arrived in-between two pieces of marbled rye bread, not a soft, fluffy potato bun. The thin patty had a sinewy, meaty chew to it with deep brown, gristled edges, and whatever magic was infused into the vegan chipotle mayo we may never know, but it added the perfect amount of creaminess to my cheese-less burger.

We pawed at the last of our fries and watched late-comers arrive only to receive the sad news that the afternoon supply of burgers had been depleted, and dinner reservations were already booked full. No shock there. If demand is any indication of desire, people want to eat more ethically and enjoy their burgers, too. Thanks to this marriage of Momofuku and Impossible Foods, New Yorkers get first dibs on a taste of the future.

All images by Clarence Dean

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