By C.J. Hirschfield
A classic dry martini, a retro wedge salad with bleu cheese, and a burger. That’s what I enjoyed for dinner after a tough day last week. Something old, something new. The “new” was that my burger was the highly-touted “Impossible Burger,” the disruptive vegan patty that will soon be manufactured by Impossible Foods in East Oakland, providing up to 80 new jobs. I enjoyed my meal at KronnerBurger on Piedmont Ave.; the burger is also on the menu at Umami Burger in Uptown.
Impossible Burger had been in the news last week. The New York Times reported that the Food and Drug Administration, which had been asked by Impossible Burger to confirm that the patty’s secret sauce was safe for human consumption, had “expressed concern.” The sauce is made from soy leghemoglobin – “heme” for short – which is found naturally in soybean plant roots and created in the company’s laboratory.
Here’s part of the Impossible Foods response:
“Although there was never a reason to suspect that soy leghemoglobin would pose any more risk than myoglobin, or any of the new proteins we encounter in our diet all the time, we started four years ago to do a deep scientific study of its safety, including any potential for toxicity or allergenicity. The data we collected and our analyses were documented and reviewed by three independent food-safety experts in toxicology, allergenicity and yeast. In 2014, this expert panel unanimously concluded based on all the evidence that the protein is generally recognized as safe (‘GRAS’) for human consumption. This is the approach followed by thousands of food companies to meet the FDA requirement that foods be generally recognized as safe.”
Impossible Foods can still sell its burger despite the FDA’s “concern”; the agency did not, after all, conclude that soy leghemoglobin was unsafe. The company plans to resubmit a petition to the agency.
Which is how I found myself biting into a burger featuring an ingredient produced by a genetically engineered yeast. Why? First of all, I love burgers. Although I was a vegetarian for a few years in my youth, I found that an occasional hit of meat ensured that my energy level remains high.
|Impossible Burger at KronnerBurger.|
But I recognize the hugely negative impact on the environment that the production of beef entails. It takes a lot of land, water, food and time for cows to turn plants into meat.
Compared to a burger made from cows, the company claims that making an Impossible Burger uses about one-twentieth as much land and one-quarter the amount of water, and produces one-eighth the greenhouse gas emissions.
In addition to the controversial “heme,” the Impossible Burger contains wheat, potatoes for a crunchy exterior, and coconut oil for its fat.
Each burger contains 220 calories, 20 grams of protein and 13 grams of fat.
|Cross-section of Impossible Burger (via ImpossibleFoods.com).|
More than $250 million has been invested in Impossible Foods, the burger’s creators. The company has joined other pioneering Oakland food manufacturers like OCHO Chocolate and Hodo Soy in choosing Oakland for production.
So what’s my review? Well, the KronnerBurger martini was great, and the wedge salad was most excellent. And the Impossible Burger, I’m pleased to report, was very good. I’m a regular consumer of veggie burgers, and I can say that the texture most directly mimics that of a beef patty.
One of the biggest draws of the Impossible Burger is said to be its red “blood,” which simulates the real thing. I’ve never cared much for the sight of blood in my burger, so that wasn’t a plus to me. But I like the fact that my Impossible Burger was not large, and with a great bun, sauce, pickles and lettuce, it was quite delightful. It’s not cheap, though: $19 for the IB, versus $15 for the regular beef burger.
Impossible Foods' stated goal is to produce 1 million pounds of plant-based "meat" per month — enough to serve 4 million Impossible Burgers — by the end of the year, in their still-under-construction facility near the Oakland Coliseum.
I have a feeling that once the Impossible Burger gets its final, formal OK from the FDA, the Bay Area’s environmentally-savvy and food-obsessed consumers will be more than willing to try “the burger that bleeds.” Ultimately, it will be the big investors like Bill Gates who’ll see if it bleeds money as well.
C.J. Hirschfield has served for 15 years as executive director of Children’s Fairyland, where she is charged with the overall operation of the nation’s first storybook theme park.