Many of us enjoy a good burger now and then — or regularly — but for some, the meal is accompanied by a serious side of guilt, whether it be for the now-deceased cow required for the beef or the amount of land and water needed to raise the animal. Then there’s the methane emissions produced by cattle. Mix it all together, and you’ve got a veritable milkshake of shame.

But what if you could eat a burger without your conscience taking a nose dive? That’s what Silicon Valley-based start-up Impossible Foods is striving for with its Impossible Burger: a patty made of plants that doesn’t sacrifice taste and overall eater satisfaction. Processing the product is sustainable, demanding just 25 percent of the water and five percent of the land needed to raise cows. Eaters can also rejoice in the patty’s lack of cholesterol, hormones and antibiotics.

Founded by biochemist Patrick Brown, Impossible Foods began researching meat and its characteristics back in 2011. The company brought people with big ideas together — engineers, chefs, farmers — and tasked them with replicating “the sights, sounds, aromas, textures and flavors” of meat. Years of research and millions of dollars in funding — big-name investors include Bill Gates — resulted in the Impossible Burger, which debuted at David Chang’s Momofuku Nishi in New York City this past July.

The burger made its West Coast debut yesterday at Crossroads Kitchen on Melrose — chef/owner Tal Ronnen is a co-founder of Impossible Burger — as well as Cockscomb and Jardiniere in San Francisco. As is true at Momofuku Nishi, the burger at Crossroads will be available on a first-come, first-served basis. On day one, the brunch-only item was sold out at the Melrose restaurant within a few hours.

Early birds like myself were able to corroborate the fact that the Impossible Burger looks just like its beefier cousin. When it’s raw, it’s reddish and granulated; when it’s delivered in a bun stuffed with typical toppings, it is the spitting image of your classic roadside burger — a plant-based product in cow’s clothing. According to Impossible Foods, those who prepare the patties are privy to additional familiar sensations, from the way they sizzle on the grill to the meaty smell produced as they cook. When cut, the patty even “bleeds.”

How is this all-natural magic achieved? While the primary ingredients of the patty are textured wheat protein, coconut oil and potato protein, the more exceptional component is heme, which Impossible Foods calls “the building block of life in all organisms, including plants.” Heme is the iron-containing molecule in blood — it makes our blood red and renders meat pink. Impossible Foods determined that heme could be removed from plants and produced using a fermentation process not unlike that used to make Belgian beer. This plant-based heme is what gives the Impossible Burger the aforementioned characteristics, which in turn will ideally attract carnivores willing to try a more healthful and environmentally sensitive burger alternative.  

Nevertheless, the texture- and taste-sensitive will surely call a spade a spade. Impossible Foods doesn’t market its product as a veggie burger, but nibble a piece of the patty sans accoutrements and it’s clear that it’s not a beef burger, either. But if you’re on the lookout for one more small, simple way to leave a smaller ecological footprint, it’s easy to forgive the Impossible Burger its flaws. Did I mention it comes with truffle fries?

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