It looks like a hamburger, a golden meat, crisp and juicy, appetizing. And yet this San Francisco-made hamburger doesn't contain a single bit of meat. It is 100 % vegetable. Its creator bets on its "delicious" taste to make it adopted by the greatest number and solve the problems of the planet. A strategy à la Tesla where the ecological discourse is blurred in favour of quality and pleasure.
Sn the grill, the meat sizzles like a traditional steak. When cut, it is rare, juicy, and looks like a good and appetizing burger. The taste has all the impressions of meat, from texture to flavour. And yet, this steak is made without meat, using only vegetable products.
This hamburger was created by Patrick Brown, a former Stanford biochemist who dreamed, like many of his Silicon Valley classmates, of changing the world. For this steak relies on its gustatory pleasure to convince everyone, not just vegetarians or vegan diet enthusiasts.
Everyone who has tasted it has approved it: it is indeed delicious and looks like real meat. So, how was it possible to achieve this feat?
Impossible Foodsis the name of this San Francisco Bay Area startup that worked for five years to develop its product. By analyzing the molecules making up the meat, the texture of a hamburger, its flavor, its appearance, Patrick Brown's research teams discovered an ingredient very specific to meat, whose taste is different from any other food. This magical ingredient is the heme.
It is a molecule that contains iron and gives the meat its red colour and slightly metallic taste. Heme is highly concentrated in red meat, but it can be found elsewhere, especially in plants. Eureka! The magic ingredient has been found. But extracting this molecule from legumes such as soya, which contains nodules in its root containing the famous heme, would have cost a lot of resources. In particular, carbon costs that the team at Impossible Foods, which respects the environment, is keen to exclude from its preparations.
So the researchers found another way by transferring the soybean gene that codes for heme protein to yeast, allowing the miracle ingredient to be produced in very large quantities.
" We've been able to produce heme on a gigantic scale... " enthused Patrick Brown. « In the end we wanted our method to be practical to achieve very competitive costs. ». Replacing meat is one thing, but being able to provide this substitute product to billions of meat lovers around the world is another matter.
Convincing meat lovers to change their habits can only be done if the product on offer really looks like meat. The question of taste and olfactory sensations or textures has therefore been the central concern of Impossible Foods researchers. So they put all their creativity into achieving their goal. For example, to reproduce the animal fat texture of a steak, they used emulsions of coconut oil mixed with textured wheat and potato proteins that make up the "vegetable meat" of their hamburger. The result is striking. This oil remains solid until the hamburger is placed in a hot pan. The "meat" patty then begins to sizzle and ooze, like the animal fat of a real steak.
To successfully reconstruct the smell of the steak, researchers worked with gas-phase mass spectrometers. They were able to break down the thousands of particles that make a steak smell. They were able to distinguish butter, grass, smoke and even raspberry tips. The teams were able to reconstruct the hundreds of mixed aromas that make up the flavour of the meat.
From a dietary standpoint, this burger contains more protein than meat, less fat and fewer calories. In addition, there is no trace of cholesterol in Patrick Brown's steak.
World consumption of red meat is at a high level, but its mass production to meet increased demand is no longer sustainable because of its proven heavy toll on the environment. In addition, ethical questions about animal welfare and slaughter conditions are emerging with intensity around the world. Alternative solutions such as switching to a vegetarian diet, even if they convince more and more consumers, are not succeeding in dethroning good old-fashioned steak for many more carnivores. Patricjk Brown's recreated hamburger is one solution among others. What sets it apart from all the alternative experiences that regularly emerge is that it focuses on taste, the pleasure of tasting. She puts ethical or environmental considerations in the background of her discourse. The startup wants to conquer its market through pleasure, just as Elon Musk's Tesla has conquered its own through the luxury and quality of its sedans. The ecological argument is far behind.
You buy a Tesla because it's a fantastic car. You'll eat Patrick Brown's hamburgers because they are delicious.