Popping up on popular social media platforms and restaurant menus around the nation, the Impossible Burger boasts a taste, texture, aroma and appearance nearly identical to a regular hamburger, but with a plant-based and eco-friendly twist.
In fact, nearly every recent Impossible Burger review raves about the shocking and seemingly “impossible” similarities to real meat, earning it its unique name. In addition to delivering a delicious meat-like flavor, it also packs a punch when it comes to nutrition and uses significantly less water, land and resources than regular meat to minimize its environmental impact.
However, the main ingredient that’s responsible for its distinct taste and texture has been the subject of a good deal of controversy since its release. Although organizations like the Food and Drug Administration have since recognized it as generally safe for consumption, others raise concerns about the use of genetically-modified organisms and the lack of long-term studies on its safety.
So what is a plant-based burger? Is the Impossible Burger vegetarian? And, most importantly, is it good or bad for your health? Here’s everything you need to know about this controversial new ingredient, plus where you can try it to taste for yourself.
What Is the Impossible Burger?
Originally founded by Patrick O. Brown, MD, PhD, Impossible Foods is a startup company out of Silicon Valley that is on a mission to promote sustainability in the global food system. Their first product, the Impossible Burger, is a popular meat substitute that has started springing up in restaurants around the country.
For five years, researchers at Impossible Foods were dedicated to studying meat at a molecular level, trying to learn exactly what gives it its unique flavor, texture, taste and aroma. This led them to the discovery of soy leghemoglobin, a plant-based compound that contains heme and is able to mimic many of the properties of regular meat.
Besides being comparable to regular meat in terms of taste and texture, the Impossible Burger also boasts a similar nutrition profile and is incredibly eco-friendly. According to the company, the Impossible Burger uses about 5 percent of the land and 25 percent of the water as burgers made from cows. Not only that, but it also produces about 1/8th of the greenhouse gas emissions, helping to prevent pollution and keep the environment clean.
Take a look at the list of Impossible Burger ingredients and you’re likely to spot some familiar names, plus a few that you may not recognize. Although it is a plant-based burger, it does contain ingredients like flavorings, fats and binders, all of which help give it its one-of-a-kind taste and texture.
It also contains soy leghemoglobin, an ingredient found in the roots of soybean plants. This ingredient also contains heme iron, a compound also found in meat that is thought to provide it with its signature savory flavor.
Here is the full list of ingredients found in the Impossible Burger:
- Textured wheat protein
- Coconut oil
- Potato protein
- Natural flavors
- Soy leghemoglobin
- Yeast extract
- Soy protein isolate
- Konjac gum
- Xanthan gum
- Vitamin B6
- Vitamin B12
Nutritionally speaking, the Impossible Burger contains a good amount of protein and fat. It’s also high in several key micronutrients, including thiamine, vitamin B12, niacin and zinc.
A 3-ounce patty contains approximately:
- 220 calories
- 5 grams carbohydrates
- 20 grams protein
- 13 grams fat
- 16.3 milligrams thiamine (1,360 percent DV)
- 2.2 micrograms vitamin B12 (90 percent DV)
- 5 milligrams niacin (30 percent DV)
- 3 milligrams zinc (25 percent DV)
- 430 millirams sodium (19 percent DV)
- 3 milligrams iron (15 percent DV)
- 57 micrograms folate (15 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligrams riboflavin (15 percent DV)
- 0.2 milligrams vitamin B6 (10 percent DV)
In addition to the nutrients listed above, the Impossible Burger also contains a small amount of calcium and potassium as well.
Is the Impossible Burger Good or Bad for You?
Since its release, there has been a good amount of controversy surrounding the Impossible Burger and the secret ingredient that supplies its signature flavor and color. Soy leghemoglobin is derived from the roots of the soybean plant and contains heme, a compound that can also be found in high concentrations in meat. The soy leghemoglobin is extracted from soybean roots and inserted into a genetically engineered form of yeast, which is then fermented, allowing it to multiply and grow.
Preliminary studies have found that soy leghemoglobin is likely safe, with one review in Molecular Food and Nutrition Research noting that it is “unlikely to present an unacceptable risk of allergenicity or toxicity to consumers.” It has also achieved GRAS status by the FDA, meaning it is “generally recognized as safe” for consumption. Still, more research is needed to evaluate how soy leghemoglobin may impact health long-term.
However, many people also have concerns about genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) and the potential effects that they may have on health. In particular, some choose to avoid GMOs due to concerns regarding food allergies, antibiotic resistance, toxicity and other potential health conditions such as cancer.
Additionally, many people wonder: are Impossible Burgers gluten-free? Unfortunately, the Impossible Burger is not suitable for those who have celiac disease or a sensitivity to gluten because it contains textured wheat protein. Textured wheat protein is an ingredient sometimes added to vegetarian products to help create a more meat-like texture, which, for most people, can be digested without issue. However, if you are following a gluten-free diet, it’s best to opt for other plant-based protein foods instead to minimize gluten consumption.
Compared to regular burgers, the Impossible Burger nutrition profile is similar in terms of calories, fat and protein content. It’s also enriched with several key micronutrients and is higher in thiamine, vitamin B12, niacin and iron. Many of these nutrients are often lacking in the standard vegan or vegetarian diet, so including a serving or two can help prevent nutritional deficiencies and promote better health.
Keep in mind, however, that the Impossible Burger is also high in sodium. Reducing sodium intake is often recommended to help manage blood pressure levels in those with hypertension. Increased sodium consumption may also be associated with a higher risk of stomach cancer as well as increased calcium excretion, which could lead to bone loss and osteoporosis.
Where to Find It
So how can you get your hands on an Impossible Burger to give it a try for yourself? As of now, you won’t be able to find the Impossible Burger at Whole Foods or on the shelves of your local grocery store. This is because, despite its GRAS status, it still won’t be available in stores until it receives FDA approval to be sold uncooked.
Instead, you can find the Impossible Burger at many restaurants, often listed alongside other burgers or in the vegetarian section of the menu. A complete list of locations of where the Impossible Burger is available can also be found directly on their website.
How much does an Impossible Burger cost? The price can vary widely based on where you purchase it; fast food chains like White Castle now carry the Impossible Burger for just $2 each, but it can also be found in many other cafes, bars and restaurants around the country.
Overall, the Impossible Burger may help ease the transition to a more plant-based diet for those looking to cut back on meat consumption over health or environmental concerns. However, it should be paired with a well-balanced diet and other plant-based proteins such as tempeh, natto, lentils, beans and seeds.