A biochemist named Patrick Brown has come up with yet another alternative strategy to produce entirely meatless hamburgers that look and taste very much like meat. That’s one above, looking sufficiently burgerlike; it’s even got that pristine medium-rare thing going on. Patties now being made by Brown’s Impossible Foods are suffused with something called heme, it turns out, a molecule that comes from the roots of nitrogen-fixing plants but has the iron-tinged character of hemoglobin. “I remember this is what it felt like to get punched in the face,” Brown tells the Wall Street Journal, relating the instant he realized that the vegan substance could be used to simulate the role most traditionally played by blood in a bloody rare hamburger. Now Impossible Foods has $75 million in venture capital, including cash from Bill Gates and Google Ventures.
The latest high-tech approach is one of three paths for the veggie burger. There are cheffed-up versions like Brooks Headley’s Superiority Burger, more hippie-esque approaches like this guy’s fully-funded kale burger, and then all the lab forays in a third category. The focus of start-ups like Beyond Meat and Hampton Creek Foods has been on replicating the texture of meat, sinewy muscle fiber and all; Modern Meadow, which is pioneering 3-D-printed meat and leather at its Brooklyn Army Terminal headquarters, closed on $10 million in Series A funding.
These companies produce everything from synthetic eggs made of pea protein to soy-plumped pseudo chicken breasts using perhaps thousands of proprietary techniques, but meanwhile, the industry seems to be closing in on the veggie burger, which remains something of the grail for our collective vegetarian future. At $20 a patty, the Impossible Foods burger may be the closest yet we’ve come to replicating In-N-Out, so it seems natural it’s attracted such ambitious amounts in funding. Why grow the cow from stem cells in a petri dish to make a $325,000 burger, after all, when you can make one with plant blood for $20?