Inside the Bill Gates-backed startup on a mission to reinvent meat

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Melia Robinson

The world’s population could reach nine billion people by 2050.

The bad news for carnivores: There aren’t enough resources on the planet to support sustainable animal agriculture at that scale. Raising chickens, pigs, and cattle already takes up 30% of the Earth’s surface.

A number of companies are tackling the challenge with meat and dairy alternatives, but one stealthy startup out of Redwood City, California, has garnered buzz with a veggie burger it says is indistinguishable from real beef.

Impossible Foods recognizes that most veggie burgers resemble pan-fried Frisbees more closely than meat. Their mission to reinvent the burger targets the most ardent meat-lovers, with an offering that sizzles, smells, and even bleeds on the griddle.

The Impossible Burger became available at Momofuku Nishi in New York over the summer. Starting October 13, people on the West Coast can try the burger at three restaurants in San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Business Insider recently toured the lab and test kitchen at Impossible Food’s headquarters to see how the future of plant-based meat comes together.


In a Redwood City, California, office building with blacked-out windows, scientists, foodies, and Silicon Valley veterans work on making the perfect veggie burger.

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Melia Robinson

But don’t call it a “veggie burger” within earshot of founder Pat Brown and his team. In 2011, they set out on a mission to make a plant-based burger unmistakably meaty. While a black bean or mushroom burger fools no one, the Impossible Burger might.

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Melia Robinson

“I have no reason to believe cows make the best meat,” Chris Davis, director of research and development at Impossible Foods, tells Business Insider.

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Flickr/mindfrieze

After years of research, the team learned there isn’t just one molecule that creates the smell of beef, or generates the familiar beef taste that’s nutty, caramelized, and slightly metallic when you sink your teeth into it.

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Melia Robinson

A tasty burger is an amalgamation of ingredients that, when separated at their molecular level, give off aromas ranging from pineapple to cabbage to dirty socks.

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Melia Robinson

A secret ingredient ties it all together: heme. The molecule carries oxygen through the bloodstream in animals and through mechanisms that produce energy in plants.

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Melia Robinson

Heme gives blood its color, turns meat pink, and lends the traditional burger its slightly metallic flavor and delicious aroma when it’s exposed to sugars and amino acids.

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Melia Robinson

You won’t find heme in specialty food stores. Impossible Foods looked into collecting it from the heme-rich nodules on soybean roots, but discovered it would require ripping up millions of plants to collect enough heme for production.

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Melia Robinson

Instead, Impossible Foods decided to whip up heme in the lab. Scientists took the genetic code in soybeans that makes heme and injected it into yeast.

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A reporter takes a whiff of heme during a factory tour at Impossible Foods.
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Melia Robinson

The yeast becomes a temporary heme factory. A whirling vat of frothy white liquid turns the color of strawberry milkshake as the molecule ramps up production.

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Melia Robinson

The mixture gets filtered through these tubes to remove the yeast and water and concentrate the heme. The process takes about a week from start to finish.

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Melia Robinson

Heme is just one of many ingredients in the Impossible Burger.

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Melia Robinson

Textured wheat protein, a popular animal-product substitute, provides the foundation of the Impossible Burger. It’s processed in a pressure cooker to imitate the feel of animal muscle, though it looks like tuna salad.

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Melia Robinson

A large baked potato provide as much protein as a serving of cheddar cheese. Its inclusion in the Impossible Burger also adds some chewiness.

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Melia Robinson

Source: SF Gate


Coconut oil, fat, salt, sugar, additives found in processed foods, and other ingredients find their way into the mix.

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Melia Robinson

But how does it taste?

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Melia Robinson

Even with its pink center and mouthwatering flavor, the Impossible Burger didn’t fool me, a meat-eater. A rubbery, mushroom-like texture gave it away.

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Melia Robinson

Still, the patty seared on the grill just like real beef. The outside crisped and darkened, while the inside leaked familiar, fatty juices. It easily beat any veggie burger I’ve tried.

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Melia Robinson

Big-name investors might agree. The company has received backing from Bill Gates and Google Ventures, and in 2015, Google made a failed attempt to acquire Impossible Foods.

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Bill Gates
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Alex Wong/Getty Images

Source: Business Insider


Starting October 13, people on the west coast can try the Impossible Burger at Jardiniére and Cockscomb in San Francisco, and Crossroads Kitchen in Los Angeles.

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Chef Traci Des Jardins owns Jardiniére, a Californian-French restaurant known for its tasting menus and romantic ambiance.
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Facebook/jardinieresf

“In five years we’ve gone from an idea to what you ate today,” R&D guru Chris Davis tells me. “Five years from now, it will be even more delicious.”

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Melia Robinson

Because while the cow is not going to get any better at making a burger, Impossible Foods plans to do just that.

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Melia Robinson