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.
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.
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.
The main product of Impossible Foods is the Impossible Burger, a meat analogue made from plant derived materials.
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. Impossible Burgers has announced that is has secured a distribution agreement with Burger King, starting with Burger Kings in St. Louis, Missouri.
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.
Evaluating Potential Risks of Food Allergy and Toxicity of Soy Leghemoglobin Expressed in Pichia pastoris. - PubMed - NCBI
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Heme - The Magic Ingredient in Impossible Burger
September 13, 2017
Here's how the footprint of the plant-based Impossible Burger compares to beef
List of US Patents filed for Impossible Foods on Flavor and Aroma
Safety Evaluation of Soy Leghemoglobin Protein Preparation Derived From Pichia pastoris, Intended for Use as a Flavor Catalyst in Plant-Based Meat. - PubMed - NCBI
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