More than five years after Momofuku chef David Chang anointed the Impossible Burger as the future of food, the plant-based meat has arrived in Australia.
US-based Impossible Foods joins a large group of other global companies vying for a piece of Australia’s meat alternative market, including American producer Beyond Meat, which extracts pea protein for its burgers, famously touted as “bleeding” beetroot juice.
Impossible Foods, however, uses soy and pea protein, and heme – the iron-containing molecule that makes meat taste “meaty”.
The privately-held food tech startup debuted its fake-beef burger in 2016 at New York City’s Momofuku Nishi, part of Chang’s hip noodle and restaurant empire. Five years and $US80 million ($107 millon) was spent on research and development just to get it to that point. Bill Gates is one of many financial backers.
Impossible’s minced beef substitute is available at Grill’d burger stores nationally from today, plus Sydney’s fried chicken and sneaker shop Butter (specifically the Chatswood and Parramatta outposts).
More restaurants will start serving the faux meat in Australia and New Zealand over the next few months.
“Our launches in Australia and New Zealand are another huge step towards bringing delicious, sustainable options to every market in the world,” said Impossible Foods president Dennis Woodside in a statement.
“Both countries are home to some of the most devoted meat-eaters on earth, and we know they’re going to love Impossible Beef.”
So then, how does it taste? How does it compare to Beyond Meat, Australia’s own V2Foods, and other beef substitute companies spinning a “better for you, better for the planet” yarn?
I was invited to sample Impossible Beef in $18 cheeseburger form at Butter in Chatswood and the stuff is, well, pretty bloody impressive.
Cooked by Butter co-owner Julian Cincotta, the burger pattie had a crunchy, deeply savoury crust, and juicy interior that didn’t crumble into cardboardy rubble after a few bites like lesser competitors.
Similar to all plant-based meat substitutes, Impossible Beef lacks the delicious mouth-coating qualities of real-deal animal fat, but there’s still an umami-heavy aftertaste that lingers about after the burger is finished. All hail the powers of heme.
I would bet folded money that most people could still identify Impossible Beef as plant-based in a line-up compared to actual meat patties, but I don’t think many burger fans would be upset about the taste and texture either. It is very, very close to something that came from a cow.
In July, I conducted a taste test of the most widely available plant-based meat substitutes at the time, and rated Beyond Meat and V2Food’s burgers 4/5 and 3.5/5 for taste respectively.
Without Cincotta cooking Beyond and V2 burgers on the same grill yesterday, it’s unfair to score the Impossible product I tasted in comparison, but I feel it would be up there under proper test conditions too.
It’s also worth noting that Grill’d and Butter are both taking delivery of Impossible’s minced “beef” and fashioning it into patties of their own with extra seasoning, rather than flipping burger pucks shaped in a factory.
Cincotta is rocking a katsu sandwich with the same mince product, and plans to offer an Impossible meatball sub and lasagne through his home-delivery service. A Butter-led Impossible Foods pop-up is set to launch in The Rocks on November 25.
Whether all this fake meat is actually better for the environment than farming livestock is up for debate.
Briefly, intensive animal agriculture is one of the biggest greenhouse gas emitters in the world, but plant-based protein extraction has an environmental impact too. Fake meat isn’t necessarily healthier than steak from a sustainably farmed ruminant either.
What we can say, however, is that the arrival of Impossible Foods means Australia’s meat-alternative market just became a heck of a lot more competitive. Quorn and Sanitarium better lift their game.