I Tried The Vegetable-Blood Burger Substitute. Here’s What I Thought.

If you’re a foodie, you’ve noted the swirl of interest around the Impossible Burger – a burger made with plant-based blood.

Okay, that’s not quite true, but it’s close enough.  The Impossible Burger is made with vegetable-based heme – the compound that lives in hemoglobin and is what, the Impossible people claim, gives actual burgers their meaty taste.   If the Impossible Burger were to be a realistic substitute for actual burgers, we could save the 11,000 gallons of water that it takes to raise just one cow and make wheat-burgers with some planty compounds thrown in.

Yet to be honest, I’ve had a lot of veggie “burgers” over the years, and what I hate most about them is their insistence that they’re burgers.  I mean, I enjoy a Boca burger or a Morningstar or even those black-bean patties they claim are burgerlike – but stop trying to convince me they’re anything like meat.  You can have them as dry, scratchy pads, or moist clumps like a beany mortar-paste, but they do not have the toothsome satisfaction of a greasy, medium-rare burger.

But when Michael Symon started serving the Impossible Burger, I took notice.

Because Michael Symon, Iron Chef and The Food Network’s basted-up sex symbol of choice (sorry, Bobby Flay), is Cleveland’s Meat Chef.  Pretty much all he does is kill animals, serving up roast after roast until PETA cries for delicious mercy.

He has been the veggie burger bouncer – every veggie burger aspirant knows that Michael Symon hates veggie burgers, so they line up hopefully at his door to have his stamp of approval.  For years he’s shrugged off what I presume are some pretty financially-incentivized taste tests, refusing to serve veggie burgers at his hamburger chain The B Spot.

Except he started serving The Impossible Burger last month.

My ears pricked.

My wife and I made a date.

And so it was that we sat on the B Spot’s patio, sipping bourbon and waiting for the Impossible Burger to arrive.  To make this test equitable, we’d ordered our favorite burger – the Lola Burger, which comes with a fried egg and bacon and pickled onions.  My wife Gini got the real patty “because she didn’t want to lose out on this meal” – I got the Impossible Burger for an extra $2.00 surcharge.

The waitress, her arms festooned in tattoos, was bubbly and excited about our test.  “Oh, I tried it,” she told us in a happy whisper.  “It’s all I eat these days.”

She brought us two burgers, and the only difference I could see between them visually was that mine had a little flag saying “THE IMPOSSIBLE BURGER” planted in the bun.

“The only way to do this fairly is to try the fake burger first,” I told Gini.  “We try the plantblood burger, then upgrade to the meaty burger, and see what’s missing.”  She agreed, even though to be honest this was completely arbitrary.

We took a bite.  Chewed, puzzled.

Then we took a bite of the meat-burger.

“…the real meat is better,” we said, unsurprised, but though we’re normally garrulous dinner mates, we could not figure out what the difference was between the two burgers.  Something was unusual about the taste of this veggie burger, some unique and new addition to the veggie burger experience that we couldn’t quite put our thumb on.  We each went through two more slow-chewing exchanges, analyzing the two burgers like with the intensity of investigators on CSI.

“The patty’s a little mushy,” we said experimentally, but that wasn’t why this tasting experience was different.  “The sear isn’t as nice as the real meat one.”  But that wasn’t what was different, either. Because we’d had real burgers that were as mushy as this one, and real burgers without the sear…

Then it came to us what the difference was:

We’d stopped handicapping the veggie burger.

See, years of disappointing vegetable analogs had trained us to quietly slip a veggie burger a few points under the table for trying.  We’d overlook the wrong texture or the lack of flavor depth because the planet was at stake and dammit, these poor burgers were trying so hard.

But the Impossible Burger was going toe-to-toe with actual burgers.  Was it as good as the best burger you could possibly have?  No.  There’s a certain bottom end of meat-flavor that really only comes when you toss a top-quality burger on the grill.

Yet to be honest, 80% of the burgers we’ve had weren’t top-quality burgers either.  I mean, sure, you do the special burger fandango and mix up sirloin and brisket and maybe a bit of pork to beef up the taste, then you’ll have a burger that punches in every flavor ticket on your tongue.

But most burgers don’t hit those heights.  Most burgers are grilled up before the game, meaty enough to go well with some pickles and ketchup – more flavorful than McDonald’s is what we usually ask – and honestly, if you’d tossed an Impossible Burger on the fire and didn’t mention it to me, I’m not sure I’d have noticed.

Every quibble we had was just that – a quibble.  Maybe the texture was a little mushier than the best burgers we had, but we had to be geared up like hamburger judges at the county fair to pick on that.  Maybe the meat taste didn’t resound fully through our palates, but it had a meat taste and it wasn’t fake at all.   Maybe it didn’t live up to the other, “real” burger across the table from us, but that was brought to us by one of the best burger chains in Cleveland, a chain run by a meat-mashing maniac.

But at the end of the day…

It tasted like a burger.

The Impossible Burger actually scores a B when compared directly to other fatty burgers.  Which is, yeah, actually impossible.  I didn’t think they could do it, to the point that we were baffled when we were asked to make a direct comparison for the first time in our lives.

I wonder what Michael Symon thought.  That man breathes beef tallow.

So currently, the Impossible Burger is a freak-show test – run out and try the miracle burger!  And honestly, you should.    But I suspect if we can get the price down – $2.00 a patty’s a bit much to add on to a burger regularly – and deal with the marketing issue that some vegetarians actually never wanted a burger that tasted like dead cow, this is gonna be a real addition to a lot of burger menus soon.

And I’ve gone from being cynical to an evangelist.  Get out there and try it.  It’s not gonna be the best burger you ever had, but in terms of a burger that no mammal died to bring you, it’s an ethical sensation that’ll do you right.

Put it on a bun, put the ingredients you wanted to, and enjoy the last of the summer while you can.  Yes, I know it’s currently October.  But global warming’s a thing, so get out the grill and enjoy the few benefits of a greenhouse effect before we go up in flames.

 

1 Comment

  1. Jericka
    Oct 14, 2017

    Two dollars is about the surcharge for a gluten free bun. I pay it because I miss burgers, but, wheat is poison to me(slow poison. It took 11 hours, but I did end up in the ER last time I got glutened). Gluten free buns have gotten better, but there’s only one place where I have to always ask the server who brings it if it’s the gluten free bun because it just looks so right and ordinary.

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