Impossible Foods

heme

Impossible Foods Inc. is a company that develops plant-based substitutes for meat and dairy products. Headquartered in Redwood City, California, the company aims to give people the taste and nutritional benefits of meat without the negative health and environmental impacts associated with livestock products.

The company researches animal products at the molecular level, then selects specific proteins and nutrients from plants to recreate the experience of meats and dairy products. Its signature product, the Impossible Burger, was launched in 2016.

In 2009, Stanford biochemistry professor Patrick O. Brown decided to devote an 18-month sabbatical to eliminating industrial animal agriculture, which he determined at the time to be the world’s largest environmental problem. With other academics, Brown co-organized a conference in 2010 in Washington, D.C. to raise awareness. However, the National Research Council workshop called ‘The Role of Animal Agriculture in a Sustainable 21st Century Global Food System’ had minimal impact and Brown decided soon after that the best way to reduce animal agriculture was to offer a competing product on the free market.

Brown started Impossible Foods in 2011. In 2016, the company launched its first meat analogue product, the Impossible Burger, which is made from material derived from plants. The company says that making it uses 95% less land and 74% less water, and it emits about 87% less greenhouse gas than making a ground beef burger patty from cows. The plant-based burger has more protein, less total fat, no cholesterol, and fewer calories than a similar-sized hamburger patty made with beef. It contains more sodium and more saturated fats than an unseasoned beef patty.

In 2019, Impossible Foods launched a new version of their signature burger, the Impossible Burger 2.0. The company has stated that the new burger is ‘tastier, juicier and more nutritious – featuring 30% less sodium and 40% less saturated fat than our current recipe and just as much protein as 80/20 ground beef from cows.’ The new product is also gluten-free, replacing wheat with soy protein.

Impossible Foods’ scientists discovered that a molecule called heme is a key factor in how meat behaves. Heme is the molecule that gives blood its red color and helps carry oxygen in living organisms. The molecule is abundant in animal muscle tissue and is also found naturally in all living organisms. Plants, particularly nitrogen-fixing plants and legumes, also contain heme. The plant-based heme is identical to the meat variant molecularly.

To produce heme protein from non-animal sources, Impossible Foods selected the leghemoglobin molecule found naturally in the roots of soyplants.[18] In order to make it in large quantities, the company’s scientists genetically engineered a yeast and used a fermentation process very similar to the brewing process used to make some types of beer.[19]

In 2014, Impossible Foods obtained a Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) designation for the leghemoglobin (oxygen-carrying molecule, in this case, heme) in the company’s flagship product. In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a ‘no questions’ letter in 2018, accepting the unanimous conclusion of a panel of food-safety experts that the protein that carries heme is safe to eat.

The company said that its scientists created a chemical library of proteins and fats derived from plants, and experimented with them as additional ingredients to mimic the texture of meat. To replicate the fat in hamburgers made from cows, Impossible Foods used flecks of coconut fat, which were mixed with ground textured wheat and potato protein. The potato protein provides a firm exterior when the ‘meat’ is seared. The coconut oil stays solid until heated, and then it melts in a similar manner to beef fat.

Impossible Foods also worked on plant-based products that emulated chicken, pork, fish, and dairy, but initially decided to concentrate on creating a substitute for the ground beef in burger patties. The restaurant Momofuku Nishi in New York, owned by David Chang, began serving the Impossible Burger in 2016. The Michelin-starred restaurant PUBLIC, operated by Brad Farmerie, began serving the Impossible Burger in 2017. In 2018, White Castle started serving Impossible Burgers. The partnership eventually expanded to include all 377 of its locations.

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