The Veggie Burger that Satisfies Like Beef?

This is very interesting, perhaps an important breakthrough.  I maintain some skepticism, though, since it is made with a genetically engineered ingredient, and since I know little about chemistry and “heme” is categorically unfamiliar to me.  Google’s dictionary says heme is:  “an iron-containing compound of the porphyrin class that forms the nonprotein part of hemoglobin and some other biological molecules”.

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Impossible Burger draws environmentalists’ ire

Credit: Impossible Foods

Biochemist Patrick O. Brown, founder of Impossible Foods Inc., invented a “magic ingredient” that solves what he calls the planet’s biggest environmental problem: beef.

The ingredient, made from soybean roots and genetically engineered yeast, goes into vegetarian Impossible Burgers, which are available in a growing number of restaurants—even fast-food stalwart White Castle.

It contains heme (pronounced HEEM), a key part of red meat and a source of iron, which humans can’t live without. Think of Brown’s discovery as plant-based blood. Brown, 63, says it makes the Impossible Burger sizzle, smell and taste like real red meat.

The resemblance to beef is the Impossible Burger’s claim to fame. It may also be its bane. Even though Impossible Foods is compliant with all regulations, the company is having the U.S. Food and Drug Administration review the product’s safety in the interest of transparency. So far, the FDA says the company hasn’t met the mark. The FDA said the plant-based heme is so new there needed to be more evidence before it will give its blessing. Impossible Foods says it tried again and is waiting for the FDA’s response.

Great potential

“This is a product that has great potential for society,” said Tom Neltner, chemicals policy director for the Environmental Defense Fund. “We have to get the science right.”

The heme molecule is also involved in another controversy. Studies have shown that steak lovers are at risk of colon cancer while chicken breast junkies aren’t. Heme makes red meat red, so some researchers think it could be a culprit, said Robert Turesky, a professor at the University of Minnesota.

That kind of talk irritates Brown. In a long career, he’s revealed truths about the AIDS virus, made the study of genomes easier and worked to tear down the paywall that separates research from the public. Stanford University gave him a lab to investigate whatever he wanted. But he quit that job, the “best in the world,” he called it, to start Impossible Foods in 2011. He’s certain his company got the science right.

On a recent afternoon at the company’s Redwood City, California, offices, Brown walked into a conference room wearing purple socks, a black hoodie and a red T-shirt displaying the chemical structure of heme. On the table, he plopped down a thick stack of loose papers—

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