The Impossible Burger entered development in 2011 and debuted in July 2016 at the fashionably erstwhile Chef David Chang’s Momofuku Nishi in Manhattan. It’s since won a 2017 Tasty Award and a 2018 Fabi Award from the National Restaurant Association - and it’s the only plant-based burger to ever have done so.
“Getting kosher certification is an important milestone,” said Impossible Foods CEO and Founder Dr. Patrick O. Brown. “We want the Impossible Burger to be ubiquitous, and that means it must be affordable and accessible to everyone — including people who have food restrictions for religious reasons.”
In Oakland, California, the magic happens on a 67,000-square-foot manufacturing facility which produces 500,000 pounds of plant-based meat per month. Rabbis from OU Kosher toured it earlier this year to make sure all ingredients, processes, and equipment used to make the Impossible Burger are compliant with kosher law.
Ingredients? No animal products whatsoever, just simple ingredients like water, wheat protein, potato protein and coconut oil. No slaughterhouses, no hormones, no cholesterol, no artificial flavors, no antibiotics and no guilt is involved in the making of these burgers. The Impossible Burger impossibly uses about 75% less water, generates about 87% fewer greenhouse gases, and requires around 95% less land than conventional ground beef from cows.
So what’s the secret ingredient? One word, two syllables: Heme. It’s what helps meat taste like meat. It’s what ties all the other flavors together when meat is cooking. Heme is found in practically everything we eat, but especially in animal tissues. Scientists at Impossible discovered its the abundance of heme in animal tissue that makes meat taste like meat.
So Impossible Foods developed a way to make heme, and thereby meat, by genetically engineering and fermenting yeast to produce a heme protein called soy leghemoglobin.
The heme you eat in your Impossible Burger is the same heme your ancestors ate with their freshly bloodied dead wild boar. Unlike the wild boar, this Impossible Burger is doing its part to save the planet. “I’m really excited to be able to announce that the Impossible Burger is now kosher. And because our meat is purely plant-based, for the first time we can all enjoy a delicious — and strictly kosher — cheeseburger,” said Impossible Foods’ Chief Science Officer Dr. David Lipman.
Even before the Impossible Burger got its kosher stamp, it was served in more than 1,500 restaurants across the United States and in Hong Kong. White Castle even added the the Impossible Slider to its menu recently. In 140 restaurants nationwide, bleary eyed stoners can accidentally order the plant burger and be shocked at how similar it tastes to the real thing.
Impossible Foods is a privately held company dedicated to reducing food’s environmental footprint with plant-based chow. It was founded in 2011 by Patrick O. Brown, M.D., Ph.D., formerly a biochemistry professor and Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator at Stanford University. Investors include Horizons Ventures, Khosla Ventures, Bill Gates, Google Ventures, UBS, Viking Global Investors, Temasek, Sailing Capital and Open Philanthropy Project.
So Impossible Foods has indeed done the impossible. There’s only one question that remains to be answered: what blessing do you say on a kosher plant-based cheeseburger? We’ll leave that to the rabbis.
Shira Feder is a writer for the Forward. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org