Russell Smith, head chef at the Source, recently told his meat supplier that he wanted to get his hands on “Impossible meat.” His rep offered him the likes of Wagyu and Kobe — both hard to find.
“I was like, ‘No, no,’ " Smith says. “‘The vegetarian stuff.’ ”
The meat alternative — called Impossible Burger — looks almost identical to ground beef. It’s bright red with bits of white “fat” marbled throughout. With a dense and springy consistency, it browns and even “bleeds” when you squish it.
But it’s made entirely out of plants.
Produced by Silicon Valley-based Impossible Foods, Impossible Burger is made with such natural ingredients as coconut oil, potato protein and heme — a protein found in high concentrations in the root of soy plants, which gives Impossible Burger its meatlike flavor and color.
The patty is meant to appeal to both vegetarians and omnivores. “We believe we can do something better for the Earth [than maintaining livestock] that is not only healthy for the planet and the people, but also delicious,” says David Lipman, Impossible Burger’s chief science officer. The company says that making Impossible Burger requires less land and water, and produces far less greenhouse-gas emissions, than growing real beef.
That’s all fine and good, but how does it taste? We sampled Impossible Burger at two D.C. restaurants that recently started serving it.
At the Source, Smith uses Impossible Burger in place of ground pork in his pot stickers ($18 for six) and Dan Dan noodles ($26). He prepares it exactly as he would regular meat, with the same seasonings and cooking methods. Well, almost. “We put a lot of duck and pork fat in our regular dumplings, but we don’t put those in there,” to keep them vegetarian, Smith says.
The results are uneven. The dumplings have an overwhelmingly mushy texture, much more so than a real meat filling. The umami-packed flavor, though, has a savory complexity you won’t find in tofu, seitan and other meat substitutes. The superior dan dan noodles benefit from a flavorful sauce and Impossible Burger that's been sauteed in oil. Crushed peanuts add a welcome crunch.
Farmers Restaurant Group — which owns Founding Farmers, Farmers & Distillers and Farmers Fishers Bakers — serves Impossible Burger at all three restaurants. We tried the F&D All American Burger at Farmers & Distillers, and although the burger's not juicy or plump enough to convert true meat lovers, the results are downright delicious.
The patties are available on any of the menu’s burgers for a $1 surcharge. Topped with cheddar cheese, relish, tomato and onion, the patties were charred, crunchy and greasy in a good way. (To avoid it from falling apart, it’s best to order it well done.) Each bite has a firm, crumbly chew, and if you had a cold, you might even mistake it for ground beef.
Expect to see more Impossible Burger soon. Already available nationwide at notable restaurants including Momofuku Nishi in New York, the meat alternative will surely continue to pop up on menus across town. Bareburger near Dupont Circle, for example, is in the process of bringing it to the restaurant.
Will it mark the end of meat?
“I would eat a pork dumpling over an Impossible dumpling,” Smith says. “But I think the flavor is good enough to make an impact.”
Correction: A previous version of this article said that heme gives Impossible Burger its meatlike consistency. The protein provides a meatlike flavor and color. This version has been updated.