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Impossible Foods

Impossible Foods

Impossible Foods is a plant-based meat company making meat and dairy products that are made to look and feel like animal products by manufacturing heme, the oxygen binding molecule found in blood, using engineered yeast grown in bioreactors.

Impossible Foods is a plant-based meat company company making meat and dairy analogue products that are made to look and feel like animal products. They have achieved this by incorporating a heme-related molecule known as Leghemoglobin, manufactured by genetically engineered yeast, into their plant-based products. Impossible Foods is headquartered in Redwood City, CA and was founded in 2011 by Stanford neuroscientist Patrick Brown.

History

Origins and environmental impact

In 2009, Dr. Brown took a sabbatical to focus on thinking about how to improve global food sustainability, and two years later he founded Impossible Foods to begin playing a larger role in global food sustainability.

Beef production releases the most greenhouse gas; nearly 5 times that of pork. Some studies show that people are interested in reducing their meat consumption for health and environmental reasons. However, widespread acceptance has been difficult because the complex structure, texture, and taste of beef is difficult to replicate, and many consumers find soy- and veggie-based meat replacement products unpalatable.

Technology

Cognitive neuroscience

According to Impossible Foods, Inc. Director of Research Celeste Holz-Schietinger, the product was born from the question "What makes meat meat?". Simply put, the last decade of research has revealed more about how the brain responds to food cues, meaning that food is not only necessary for survival, but is a cognitive experience. Several studies have demonstrated that there is differential brain activity in response to visual, gustatory, and auditory cues of the eating (and cooking) experience. Consequently, scientists at Impossible Foods have worked to break ground beef down into all its molecular components to understand how to better replicate the cognitive experience of cooking and eating ground beef.

Their studies have led them to understand the that primary molecule that gives beef it's characteristic flavor is heme, which is the iron-carrying component of blood in animals. It's the heme and blood that gives the raw beef the red color, distinct aroma, and turns brown when the meat cooked. They found that they could extract a heme homolog (very similar chemical structure) known as leghemoglobin from the root nodule of soy plants.

To be able to sustainably mass-produce leghemoglobin without avoid having to actually harvest soy plant root nodules, scientists at Impossible Foods developed a genetically modified strain of yeast strain that contains the leghemoglobin gene and can quickly grow via fermentation. They also developed a scalable way to isolate the leghemoglobin, from the yeast with consistent and extremely high purity.

While taste, color, and aroma were one hurdle to clear in the development of a meat substitute, Impossible Foods wanted to incorporate ingredients that would satiate other cognitive responses. In their most recent iteration, they use wheat protein, which has the same fleshy texture of beef, potato protein, which gives the same crust that forms on the outer layer of seared beef, and flakes of coconut oil that melt when the burger is grilled, mimicking beef fat and giving the characteristic "sizzle" of cooking meat.

Scientists with Impossible Foods hope that generating a product that looks and feels like ground beef when raw and gives off the same sensory cues while cooking will trick the brain, thus providing an acceptable, sustainable meat substitute.

Products

The main product of Impossible Foods is the Impossible Burger, a meat analouge made from plant derived materials.

Distribution

Impossible Foods has begun to supply restaurants with their product at locations across the United States and Hong Kong. They began this process in early 2016, distributing their product first to high-end restaurants, then partnering with their first national chain: Fatburger.

Reception

There are claims that the Impossible Burger has a similar texture to actual beef, while others were impressed with the flavor and aroma. Criticism includes a review that the burger left a lingering bitter aftertaste, another review that said they could taste the coconut flavor in the burger, and a third review said if the burger is well cooked throughout, it gains a distinct wheat flavor that was unpleasant.

Timeline

Convertible Note

Total Raised: $114,000,000

Lead Investors: Sailing Capital, UBS and Temasek Holdings

Investors: Khosla Ventures, GV, Horizons Ventures, Trinity Capital Investments, Bill Gates, Viking Global Investments, Li Ka-Shing and Innovative Fund

Post-Money Valuation: $800,000,000 as of October 2015

Convertible Note

Total Raised: $75,000,000

Lead Investor: Temasek Holdings

Investors: Bill Gates, Horizons Ventures and Khosla Ventures

Debt Financing

Total Raised: $16,500,000

Investor: Trinity Capital Investment

Series D Funding

Total Raised: $108,000,000

Lead Investor: UBS

Investors: Khosla Ventures, Horizons Ventures, Bill Gates, Li Ka-Shing, Viking Global Investors and Innovative Fund

Series C Funding

Total Raised: $ 40,000,000

Investors: GV, Horizons Ventures

Series B Funding

Total Raised: $25,000,000

Investor: Bill Gates

Series A Funding

Total Raised: $9,000,000

Investor: Khosla Ventures

People

Name
Role
Related Golden topics

Celeste Holz-Schietinger

Director of Research

Chris Gregg

Senior VP:Supply Chain & Manufacturing

David Lipman

Chief Science Officer

Marcella Butler

Chief People Officer

Patrick Brown

Founder and CEO

Tara Kriese

Senior VP:Marketing

Further reading

Title
Author
Link
Type

Evaluating Potential Risks of Food Allergy and Toxicity of Soy Leghemoglobin Expressed in Pichia pastoris. - PubMed - NCBI

Jin Y , et al.

List of US Patents filed for Impossible Foods on Flavor and Aroma

Impossible Foods

Academic paper

Safety Evaluation of Soy Leghemoglobin Protein Preparation Derived From Pichia pastoris, Intended for Use as a Flavor Catalyst in Plant-Based Meat. - PubMed - NCBI

Fraser RZ , et al.

The meatless Impossible Burger bleeds and sears, but wasn’t a crowd pleaser

Beth Mole

US Patent for Affinity reagents for protein purification (Patent # 9,833,768 issued December 5, 2017)

Impossible Foods

Academic paper

US Patent for Expression constructs and methods of genetically engineering methylotrophic yeast (Patent # 9,938,327 issued April 10, 2018)

Impossible Foods

Academic paper

What IF? – Medium

Impossible Foods Blog

Where’s the beef? For Impossible Foods it’s in boosting burger sales and raising hundreds of millions

Jonathan Shieber

Documentaries, videos and podcasts

Title
Date
Link

Heme - The Magic Ingredient in Impossible Burger

September 13, 2017

Companies

Company
CEO
Location
Products/Services

Impossible Food

Impossible Burger

References