Oh, Hey, I Had an Impossible Burger Finally

I had it when I was in California. It was fine! And I would eat another one.

For those of you unawares of what an “Impossible Burger” is, it’s a burger made with plant-based “meat” made by Impossible Foods. It’s mostly soy and a few other ingredients, including “heme,” which is what gives it that meaty, vaguely bloody taste. The company is on iteration 2.0 of its product, which is supposed to be even meatier than the original, and various places which serve burgers are beginning to put it on the menu, most notably Burger Kings, which tested it in St. Louis earlier this year and plans to go wide with the burgers later in 2019.

Where I live is not exactly close to anyplace currently serving Impossible Burgers, but when I was in LA, I went to lunch with friends and the bistro we went to had them on the menu. So I tried it.

My verdict: on a scale of 1 to 100, where 1 was “White Castle at 1am” and 100 was “That Aussie burger I had in Melbourne that almost made me cry with its deliciousness,” this burger was a solid 45-to-50, i.e., a perfectly cromulent burger that was not particularly distinguishable from the general mass of foodstuffs that are understood to be “a burger.” It was slightly dry but not horribly so, and could have used a little more seasoning on the patty. But as part of the whole burger (including cheese lettuce, tomato and condiments), it was… perfectly fine! If I had not known it was not beef, I wouldn’t have thought it wasn’t beef. It was unremarkable in terms of a burger experience, and I suspect will get better as cooks learn how to cook the patties better.

Which I think is the whole point. At this point in time a patty made with Impossible Meat (or the fake meat from Beyond, another producer) probably isn’t going to replace your high-end angus burger made by a chef who knows what they are doing, but in a high-volume, fast-food context — say, Burger King — this is an absolutely serviceable variation. I would totally buy an Impossible Whopper without hesitation, or get an Impossible Burger when I was at Red Robin or some similar casual dining chain.

I’m not someone who is planning to go vegetarian any time soon, but I also wouldn’t have any problem switching a substantial portion of the meat I do eat to plant-based substitutes, particularly when the plant-based substitute is largely indistinguishable from the stuff made from animals. On the “ground meat” level of things, it looks like we’re mostly there already. It’s just a matter at this point of widening production and distribution.

So, yeah: I had an Impossible Burger. It was fine, and I would eat another. And I’m looking forward to them (and other similar options) becoming widespread soon.

45 Comments on “Oh, Hey, I Had an Impossible Burger Finally”

  1. My thoughts on it were: it tasted mostly but not exactly right, but it also didn’t taste over-cooked, or have the extra grease, that most thin-patty burgers do. So a bit off on the one hand, but lacking some negatives on the other. As you note, combined with normal toppings, and it’s perfectly cromulent.

    I’ve had it twice now.

  2. What’s the point? What strange crazy chemical processes do they use to fake something that is easy to make via simple biology? Twenty years from now when all the fashionably vegan are growing a third teat, you too will be asking!

  3. The stumbling block will be price point as well as availability. I’ll spend up to 25% more for plant based burger products if they taste beef-like, but more than that isn’t on the table. I remember when they used to mix soy-based crumbles into cafeteria food in school where ground beef was called for; they probably still do, as long as it’s cheaper than ground beef. Soy makes a perfectly good ground beef extender. It’s less objectionable than grass-fed beef, which has a gamy taste (to me) I don’t like, but is more expensive.

  4. I tried one a couple of years ago and was amazed. It was the first vegan burger that would have fooled me into thinking it was meat. I was surprisingly good. I have eaten a lot of vegan burgers and this was the best by far. Nevertheless, they do go to great lengths to get this to taste like a burger and are getting pretty far from real food and closer to a bunch of chemicals. If I was going to eat these on a regular basis, I would want to check into how healthy it actually is and how much nutrition it actually has (and no those aren’t the same thing)… ;)

  5. The points are mostly that beef production is intensive farming and requires a lot of calories (and water) in for a small return. Sure it’s tasty, but we’re chewing up the landscape to produce them. This is all before we hit the production problems encountered with concentration farming (feed lots) where the use of antibiotics is necessary, but driving evolution of highly resistant bacteria. And it’s way before what we’ve done (and are doing) to cattle to actually produce the meat (one example is most cows are culled at 3 years, but bovine spongiform encephalopathy doesn’t demonstrate the disease until 5 years, or look at dairy and the rate of hoof rot and then look at what’s causing the increased rates). And that’s before the human health issues that come along with the increase of red meat in our diets or the increased methane output from our modern farming methods.

    But I expect “fake meat” to be added to the list of things that government is using to control us (like fluoride in the water) and come out of the whackosphere sometime next year.

  6. On behalf of all cattle farmers here in Ireland, I condemn this as the work of the Devil and another part of the conspiracy to pollute our precious bodily fluids! Otherwise, carry on.

  7. The Unpossible Burger is more cromulent than the Impossible Burger; it embiggens my soul.

  8. sbradfor:

    It’s definitely not healthy; it’s got about the same calorie count and calories from fat as beef, as I understand it, and the processing of the Impossible Burger, as I understand it, takes a lot of the nutritional value out (although some is then subsequently put back in). But the production is less environmentally detrimental than growing beef is, on a large scale. And anyway, I’m not eating a burger of any sort to be healthy.

  9. Red Robin on Montgomery road in Cincinnati sells them. You are in Ohio if memory serves.
    I found it had a kale like aftertaste. But it was good, I would eat it again.

  10. I don’t eat land- or sky-meat so I’m looking forward to an Impossible burger someday soon. I have yet to run across them but my husband gave pretty much the same review as you. They’re good, not spectacular, but they could be someday. Glad you liked it!

  11. “grass-fed beef, which has a gamy taste (to me) I don’t like,…”

    Umm, beeves are natural grazers, grass eaters. People nowadays are so used to corn-fattened beef that ‘real’ beef taste is troublesome! It’s no bleeping wonder they’ll eat this whatever-it-is.

    PS properly processed and prepared ‘game’ meat is delicious.

  12. Haven’t tried an impossible burger yet, still trying to get the taste of some of the earlier iterations out of my mouth. I actually cook something similar when I have friends over for a cookout. I have some Vegan friends that eat them.

    They are probably still related to the old tofu burgers. Sprouted bean curd is good for you and “heme” is the iron carrying molecule in hemoglobin, so it shouldn’t hurt you either.

    If we can’t get the assholes out of those massive SUV s cutting down the methane from cow farts might be a deciding factor in how fast the seas rise.

  13. I learned that recently when I went out to Qdoba for dinner, so I tried it with nachos. My verdict is about the same as Scalzi’s. I’ll probably continue going with that option when it’s available.

  14. In my experience, if it was dry the Impossible Burger wasn’t cooked well. I think it’s best “medium rare” and still “bleeding”. Medium and well done tend to dry it out badly. Funny enough, most White Castles have Impossible Sliders now and I find that they are often better at cooking the patties than many of the fancy places that haven’t figured out yet they are overcooking them to dry death. (The Sliders still taste of regret soaked in onion grease, so you still get the true White Castle experience though.)

  15. You forgot to mention it costs twice as much as a regular burger.

    On a semi related topic, 10 years ago my vegan daughter was living with us. She had “hamburgers” in the fridge, I was hungry one day and tried one. It was good. Really good. Went to the grocery store and they cost 3x what a regular hamburger would cost me.

    I have nothing against veggie burgers, but if you want me to eat them you have to be cheaper than a cow.

  16. Jim:

    Mine didn’t cost twice as much but it did cost more; about 25% more. The surcharge was something I didn’t have a problem with, although I do expect the price will come down when/if demand rises.

  17. I can only assume your 1am White Castle are the frozen ones, for fresh White Castle is ambrosia.

  18. I’m not a vegetarian, but my wife and daughter are, so I welcome the Impossible Burger, both because it’s serviceable as a burger, and because it makes more places where all three of us can find something we like.

    But I’m sad to see that John is such a fan of In & Out, the most mediocre burgers in California. ;)

  19. After getting a breast cancer diagnosis a couple of years ago, I cleaned my diet up significantly, and although I’m not vegetarian, let alone vegan, I’ve cut waaaaay back on red meat and consume almost no grilled animal protein. A friend introduced me to the Beyond products, and they’ve been a godsend. The burgers, spicy Italian sausage, and brats all grill up nicely, and the ground beef works well given that it’s not the centerpiece of dish. I agree with Worldmaker about the preparation of the impossible burger – an more cooked than medium rare and they get dry.

  20. Am I the only inquiring mind that wants to know more about that burger in Melbourne?

  21. I tried one recently to see what all the hubbub was about, since everyone seems to think they’re amazingly beef-like. I was not impressed. It tasted like fake burger, or what someone who hadn’t eaten a real burger in two decades might think a burger tastes like. I have no intention of eating another.

  22. @Dana — the grass-fed beef available at the local Safeway is distinctly ‘grassy’ tasting. I’ve had grass fed beef from other locales which is much closer to corn fed in taste. One local farmer raises his cattle on pineapple trimmings, which gives a slight but notable sweet taste and no gaminess. I’d still go for the Impossi-burger or variants thereon; the ones I’ve eaten aren’t bad, if overpriced.

  23. Wait, you visited Melbourne, John? When was that? What did you think of our fair city in general? And where did you eat that 100 burger?

  24. @T.j. Swoboda, no, you are not the only one wondering that. Melbourne is the food capital of Australia, so we have many fine burgers, but I’d love to try the place that got our Host’s 100% rating.
    (BTW, for anyone outside Australia, an Aussie burger is a specific, traditional variety, & usually includes a fried egg.)

  25. I’ve had one Impossible Burger. First bite was great, but after that it had an odd metallic undertaste; I think I was tasting the heme. Much preferred a Beyond Meat burger. I’ve had some spicy black bean burgers that were really good. Or, really, just a big portabella mushroom, marinated and grilled, makes a great substitute patty.

    I wonder if lab-grown beef will ever be affordable.

  26. John was in Melbourne for the last Aussie WorldCon, in 2010, so it was probably somewhere near the convention and exhibition centre. I can’t believe that’s 9 years ago already.

    I’ve tried the Beyond Burger. As a lifetime vegetarian (my whole family was, I’ve known nothing else for 55 years) I can’t compare it to a beef burger, but my companions tried some and said it seemed right. I found it bland and boring – if that’s what beef burgers are like, I don’t think I’m missing anything.

  27. “I found it bland and boring…” There are billions of poorly cooked burgers out there. A good burger starts with good meat, (make mine ground sirloin) salt and pepper, cooked at *high* temperature for a good sear. The bun should be unobtrusive, and keep the toppings and condiments to a minimum. (Try a thick slice of beefsteak tomato and a kiss of mayo or ranch dressing.)

    I loathe the trend to pile the kitchen sink on top of good meat. “Put the french fries on it! And bacon and onion rings and barbeque sauce and pickled onions and a fried egg.” These people are not burger lovers.

    (Yeah, I’m a crotchety old fart. But I make a dam’ good burger ;-) )

  28. I had a Beyond Beef burger at a chain sports bar/restaurant, cooked with the same technique as beef burgers (I asked) to medium rare. It was exactly like the beef burger. Looked like it both inside and out, crusted like it, was juicy like it, tasted like it. My lunch partner said he wouldn’t be able to tell the difference either.

    I’d have to look deeper into the ingredients before deciding whether to use it for all my ground beef needs but doing so is certainly a possibility.

  29. This is great, provided that Impossible Burgers (and other meat-free burgers) are clearly labelled. I can’t take much soy in my diet, so I want to avoid meat replacements that use soy. At the moment, Impossible burgers are new and trendy, so places are actively advertising them. I do, however, want to avoid a future where regular burger patties and meat-free burger patties are side-by-side in a chiller cabinet, with no easy way to tell the difference. Because being ill annoys me. The marketing at the moment is talking about this – I hope food labelling laws win out.

  30. I like the Impossible burger quite a bit, and I like the Beyond burger even more. The new success of these two products, however, has revealed a schism in my household.

    My wife and I are both vegetarians, but for radically different reasons. I enthusiastically ate meat until my mid-thirties, when my decades of studying ethics finally overcame the inertia of a lifetime of comfort eating. I’ve abstained from eating meat for twelve years despite the fact that I still find the idea appealing.

    My wife has always thought both the texture and the taste of meat (basically all meat) to be disgusting, so she was happy to stop eating it as soon as she could disentangle from family pressure and determine her own diet.

    Many of the places we’ve frequented for veggie burgers are now replacing black bean patties and other veggie-derived burgers with the Impossible and Beyond products. I embrace this. It’s the best of both worlds for me. My wife hates it. She’s losing her burger options and being presented with non-dead-animal food that nonetheless bears all of the qualities of meat she had successfully avoided all these years.

    The upshot, I guess, is that we now spend more of our meals out at the Sri Lankan place we both love. Win-win.

  31. As for the future of such burgers, if you want to keep your beef farm prices healthy, then all you need is a flawed study with a population of just 12, by a person with a monetary vested interest, to start a world-wide conspiracy theory against impossible burgers.

    Crazy? That’s how the anti-vacination movement started back in 1998 when a fellow failed to declare his monetary vested interest. He got kicked out of the medical field, but by then the damage was done, and the shock waves keep on rolling.

  32. Where it is truly revolutionary is in reference to the “White Castle at 1 AM” being the bottom of the burger scale. White Castle started doing impossible burgers about a year ago in Columbus, and now I actively don’t respond to the idea of going there with a “Are you crazy?”

  33. Wonderful post, John!

    I also recommend people try Gardein Golden Fishless Filets (in the freezer section). This is many people’s favorite substitute. It is AMAZINGLY like real fried fish filets in taste and texture. And the more I read about the poor oceans, the more I realize they really need our help…

  34. I’d love to be able to swap out some alternative for all the ground beef I eat. Like our gracious host, I’m not going vegetarian any day soon. I like my frequent bacon, and occasional delicious steak, tasty sandwich toppings or lamb too much.

    But if I could replace ground beef with something plant-based, between burgers and pasta meat and similar stuff, that’d probably cut my meat consumption in volume by half. As someone who doesn’t drive, and only flies really infrequehtly, that probably the biggest contribution to the enviornment I could make.

    So I hope this stuff catches on!

  35. Pescatarian family here — veggie + seafood, or, as S. J. Pajonas put it, no “land- or sky-meat.” I took advantage of a recent promotion and tried an Impossible Burger. Two conclusions:

    1. It’s a perfectly serviceable burger.
    2. I don’t miss burgers all that much.

    I’m NOT enough of a masochist to tell anyone else how to eat. Simply for me, when I stopped eating meat, instead of looking for acceptable imitations of what I’d cut out, I began trying plant-based protein sources, and found plenty.

  36. Back when I lived in L.A. I used to go to AstroBurger for the garden burger. They would cook it over flames and although it didn’t taste like beef the grain/mushroom/cheese patty still tasted great with a little char on the outside. And, it cost about the same as a regular burger. I’ve only come across the garden burger a couple of times since, notably at a Subway where they nuked it into a lumpy porridge.

  37. One of the fancy burger places in our college town sells them, but I haven’t tried. If I don’t want a burger then I will get a salad and when I want a burger I really want one.

    Back when I was in high school the McDonald’s where I did an internship had a vegetarian soy burger (it was a limited regional thing they were testing out)… and it was much better than their other patties…. and if I had been given a blind taste test between it and other various patties I probably would have chosen one of the regular mcdonald’s as being not actual meat, not their soy burger. No heme involved!

  38. I’ve been on the vegetarian spectrum since 1999. I didn’t eat a lot of burgers even when I did eat beef, but I tried the Impossible mostly out of curiosity. Had to ask *several* times if I’d gotten the right patty, because to my memory, it tasted suspiciously like a commercial beef burger. I had my omnivore wife check it out, and she agreed it tasted remarkably similar to a regular hamburger. I will definitely eat them if I’m in the mood. However, if you go to Red Robin, their inhouse veggie burger is actually MUCH better than the Impossible, without the upcharge. (I’m thinking it’s the fried mushrooms they add, but YMMV.) P.S. I am currently a pescatarian who hasn’t had beef, chicken, or pork since May 1999.

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