It's getting to be barbecue time and, fittingly, burgers have been in the news a lot lately. Not the "usual" kind of burger, though, but a new kind of burger. One that's plant-based and better for our bodies and the environment.
Though Burger King has had a MorningStar brand veggie burger on its menus for years, it was pretty big news when the chain recently began testing a new kind of vegetarian patty—one that apparently looks and tastes like beef. The tests must have gone well, because the chain announced it plans to roll out
"Impossible" versions of its infamous Whopper; the "Impossible" being the brand name of the patty BK intends to use. Similarly, fast-Mexican chain Del Taco
already offers an Impossible taco, made of the same stuffs. Other large chains, from White Castle to the Cheesecake Factory, also offer an Impossible Burger.
So what's all the fuss about? Basically, it's the creation of a vegetarian burger that tastes like and mimics the texture of ground beef. Traditionally, the complaints about veggie burgers have revolved around their texture, tending to be more spongy and dense than a burger. Though some manufacturers have come out with pretty good options, such as Boca Grillers, many were still waiting for that one giant leap, for the veggie burger with the crumble and chew of ground beef.
Also of increasing importance to many is eating for the environment. Traditional feedlot beef production is inherently cruel and incredibly destructive to the planet. Cattle grazing is hard on land, turning the Midwest into the second coming of the Dust Bowl, and it takes a whole lot of resources to turn a very large vegetarian animal into food. According to a 2014 study conducted by Bard College, the Weizmann Institute of Science and Yale University, producing one pound of beef requires 1,799 gallons of water, 12 pounds of grain, 35 pounds of topsoil, and the equivalent of one gallon of gasoline. In broader terms, livestock-based food production causes about one-fifth of all global greenhouse emissions.
Animal agriculture in general occupies almost half the land on earth and consumes a quarter of our fresh water. It's an inexcusable amount of waste. By contrast, production of these Impossible Burgers uses 96% less land, 87% less water, and 89% fewer emissions than traditional feedlot beef. Made with soy and potato protein, coconut and sunflower oil, and flavored with something called heme, an umami-flavored byproduct of fermented yeast, Impossible meats are something you can feel good about eating.
And you don't have to be a fast food lover to ride this meaty new wave. If you want to BBQ at home, try the Beyond Meat label, which includes burgers, sausages, ground "beef" and even chicken strips, all available at local grocery stores. If you're eating out, there are a few local spots offering Impossible meats, including the Chili Line Brewing Company, Plaza Café Southside, Rowley Farmhouse Ales and Bumble Bee's Baja Grill.
By the way, Root 66 food truck, which was sort of the undisputed champion of the kick-ass Impossible burger, is out of service while looking for a new chef. I checked in with them, however, and have been told they're planning to be back on the road in July. Phew!
Chili Line Brewing Company's (204 N Guadalupe St., 982-8474) Impossible burger ($13) comes in as one of my favorites, topped with a generous dollop of fresh-made burrata and green chile. I ordered mine medium-well and was a little shocked when it came out looking like actual ground meat—and really pink in the middle. Having not eaten a beef burger since I was a little kid, I wasn't quite expecting that level of reality. Chili Line also has a vegan Impossible pizza, made with vegan cheese, Impossible burger meat, onions, olives, bell peppers, and mushrooms ($12 for a 10-inch).
Plaza Café Southside's (3466 Zafarano Drive, 424-0755) Impossible burger ($14.95) is served up like their regular burger, with lettuce, tomato and onion. It's a nice option for those who like to keep their burgers simple. For those who like to load it on, additional fixin's, such as guacamole, cheese, grilled mushrooms or green chile ($1.25 each), are available. The Impossible burger can stand up to some weight. It doesn't fall apart, as is frequently the case with patties made of nuts or beans, so you won't end up with a hand full of bun over a plate full of everything that fell out of it.
Rowley Farmhouse Ales' (1405 Maclovia St., 428-0719) Impossible offering ($14) is served up more gastropub-style with Old Windmill cheddar and caramelized onion jam. Though the burger I had seemed overcooked, a bit on the dry side, the rich, caramelized onion jam made up for it. Add to that the sharpness of the cheddar and this burger is a dream for those who like it rich and savory.
No longer talking burgers, but still in the realm of the Impossible, Bumble Bee's Baja Grill (301 Jefferson St., 820-2862) also offers a Beyond Meat vegan chicken option for its salads, tacos and burritos (and in a hearty vegan tortilla stew available in fall and winter), making good even better; not just for us, but for our planet too.
An earlier version of this story stated that Beyond Meats is owned by Impossible Meats. This is incorrect and we've rectified the mistake. SFR regrets the error.