The Chicago Tribune says it’s “possibly the best veggie burger you’ll try.” Vox calls it “the Tesla of food.” An alt-weekly in North Carolina says it will give you an “authentic hamburgasm,” whatever that means. And starting today—Friday, October 27—Portlanders can taste it for themselves at a half-dozen high-profile restaurants across the city for the foreseeable future, including Imperial and SuperBite.
We’re talking about the Impossible Burger, a futuristic vegan patty six years in the making. Funded (to the tune of $250 million) by venture capitalists and perfected by Silicon Valley food scientists, the Impossible Burger uses plant-based foods like wheat, potatoes, and coconut oil to create a substance that is said to smell, sizzle, taste, and, yes, bleed just like the beef patties of yore. The magic ingredient? Heme, an iron-rich molecule most commonly found in blood, which Impossible Foods sources from fermented yeast.
Said to require 75 percent less water and 95 percent less land than conventional beef, the environmentally friendly Impossible Burger first launched at New York City’s Momofuku Nishi in July 2016. Initially, reactions seemed largely positive from both vegans and omnivorous burger lovers. But in August, reports surfaced that one of the burger’s essential ingredients, soy leghemoglobin, had not been officially confirmed as safe and allergen-free by the Food and Drug Administration.
When an Impossible Burger spokesperson argued the company had tested the ingredient on rats, it only made matters worse—after all, ethical vegans oppose all animal testing. Impossible Foods released a statement emphasizing the “agonizing dilemma of animal testing” and stating that “the option that advances the greater good” supersedes “ideological purity.” But the incident ultimately emphasized what Impossible Foods has been saying all along: the burger is targeted towards mainstream eaters and environmentalists, not ethically motivated vegans.
Portland eateries now carrying the Impossible Burger include Jackrabbit, SuperBite, Irving Street Kitchen, and three Vitaly Paley spots: Imperial, Headwaters, and Paley’s Place. But, true to form, not a single one is serving it in a vegan-friendly manner, according to the PR firm representing Impossible Foods. Instead, the burgers are being topped with ingredients like gruyere and beer cheese sauce as well as eggy "Russian-aise" and yuzu kosho aioli. That's well and good, but an odd move for a town with such a deep, robust, vocal vegan scene.
"While the meat itself is technically vegan, the preparation at each restaurant (the bread, the cheese, you name it) rarely is, so we do not promote the Impossible Burger as a vegan dish," explains Sean Marier of Allison PR. However, Marier assures that there will be vegan options available upon request at each of the participating Portland restaurants. So, if you’re not bothered by details like FDA approval, animal testing, or the fact that your plant-based burger is bleeding, you can now try this controversial burger. Let us know how it goes.