Houston Now Has The Impossible Burger

To dream the Impossible dream, to bite the unbeatable faux burger.
To dream the Impossible dream, to bite the unbeatable faux burger. Photo courtesy of Impossible Foods
It was only a matter of time before the meatless burger that bleeds, Impossible Burger, landed in Texas. Now Houstonians can get a taste at Underbelly and Hay Merchant, the first restaurants outside of a dozen in California and New York, including David Chang's Momofuku Nishi and Ssam Bar, to serve the cutting-edge burger that was launched in 2011 with backing from Google Ventures and Bill Gates.    

But don't be mistaken here. This isn't a burger for vegetarians or vegans. In fact, Pat Brown, CEO and founder of Impossible Foods, actually told a crowd of reporters at Underbelly on Friday: "No one is allowed to use the vegan word in association with our product. We have zero interest in making a product for vegetarians."  

What Impossible Foods is interested in making the product all about: sustainable foodways, ever more important in the political era of birdbrained climate change denial. Brown, professor emeritus at Stanford University's biochemistry department, a co-founder of the Public Library of Science and a DNA microarray developer, created the Impossible Burger out of a concern for the future of the planet, out of necessity, basically, because the demand for meat is projected to increase 50 percent by 2050 when the population grows to more than 9 billion, he says. According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, growing plants for livestock production already consumes 25 percent of the world's fresh water. Plus, animal agriculture takes up half the world's land and is responsible for 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

"There has to be an answer for the future, for the time to come," chef Chris Shepherd told the crowd at his beloved Montrose restaurant, speaking alongside Brown and cohosts Tyler Horne of Urban Harvest and news personality Katherine Whaley. "I tried it and I went yeah. You're making a plant based-thing that looks and tastes like a fucking burger."

Actually, the effing burger-like plant-based thing is a food product that uses 75 percent less water, generates 87 percent fewer greenhouse gases and requires around 95 percent less land than conventional ground beef.

"Think about how this can change the world," Shepherd said. "It may not be for you. "But it's for the world."

It arrives at the restaurant as a five-pound frozen log — apparently you can even eat it raw and be fine — and is then cut into patties and must be seared, never grilled, lest it turn, one can only hope, into some mutant flesh blob somewhere between the likes of Meatwad and the wheelchair guy from The Hills Have Eyes. Still, though, there is nothing synthetic in this all-natural fake-burger foodstuff, just wheat, potato, cococut oil and something called heme, a molecule found in animal hemoglobin and in some plants as well, which gives the Impossible Burger its meaty flavor, aroma and juiciness.
click to enlarge
Looks like a burger, tastes like a... burger?
Photo by Susie Tomanney
Not everyone at the launch was impressed with the taste, though. At least one notable food critic was seen continually poking the meat, saying repeatedly that the texture was off and that the product would plateau and never rise beyond that.

With its current $18 price tag, it is questionable if this burger will catch on with more than just a small subset of sustainability enthusiasts, especially in Texas, the biggest per capita consumer of beef in the United States, let alone the U.S. leader in cattle production, currently worth around $12.3 billion, despite continuing hardships for ranchers, including drought and land development.

"If we can't satisfy Texans," Brown insisted, "it's back to the drawing board."

In reality, Impossible Foods is already building a plant in Oakland to help it produce 10 million pounds of Impossible Burger a year, and is attempting to get the product in schools and grocery stores as a major ground beef competitor. On the way are new steak and dairy products and even a faux fish, which will address the ocean's severely declining fish population.

For now, health fanatics should be happy —  Impossible Burger's protein content is the same as in a beef burger but without any cholesterol. Plus, if you're a vegetarian hellbent on trying this bloody number, Shepherd said, "It's so much better than a fucking quinoa burger."  But, then again, what isn't?
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Gwendolyn Knapp is the food editor at the Houston Press. A sixth-generation Floridian, she is still torn as to whether she likes smoked fish dip or queso better.