|Impossible Foods’ rising empire of almost-meat |
How a burger maker became a “platform.”
This April Fools' Day, Impossible Foods was behind a prank video. Customers in a St Louis branch of Burger King were surreptitiously filmed eating the restaurant's flagship Whopper. First they rhapsodized about their love for beef. Then they were told they'd just eaten a plant-based Impossible Burger.
"It's made of fucking beef right here, you see that?" one customer told the camera -- expletive bleeped out -- peeling back his sandwich to reveal the monochrome disc beneath. "That's impossible. It tasted just like a Whopper should taste," said another. Cue close-ups of flames, blackened grills and fat-spitting patties.
The minute-long video announced Impossible's biggest partnership yet: a Burger King Whopper made of plant-based meat that sells for $1 more than a regular one. The deal is a stamp of approval from fast food royalty that will eventually insert Impossible's vegan patty right into mainstream America's daily dietary choices.
I've eaten Impossible meat in gua baos, salad bowls, Lebanese kafta and White Castle sliders. I'm mostly astounded at how plausibly generic it is, how unobtrusively it replaces the ketchup-and-plastic-cheese-smothered slice of gray that usually resides within a fast food bun. How enough heavy spicing or dousing in sauce could sneak an Impossible product past my taste buds, perhaps to be called out in a semi-viral moment of my own.
Tasted without accompaniments, the product has a convincing chew and toasty burnt edges but a hollow savoriness at the core. As a meat eater, I would not crave Impossible meat. If I craved a burger, though, this could go part of the way to satisfying the urge. Note that in the Burger King video, the customers' astoundment hits not when they taste the burger but when they realize they couldn't tell the difference.
This is what's revolutionary about Impossible's burger -- not that it's the best you've ever tasted but that finally there's a viable, inoffensive alternative for meat that you can find at a drive-through for less than $6.
In the trillion-dollar market for meat, inoffensive is a paradigm shift. Veggie burgers have existed in the US since the 1980s; mock meats made by Chinese Buddhists date back to the seventh century. But most meat proxies have historically either not tasted like the real thing or not aspired to.
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