In 2011, Patrick Brown, a Stanford biochemistry professor decided the best way to reduce animal agriculture was to offer a competing product in the free market. He pulled resources together, with a team and backing research, started the company called the Impossible Foods Inc. He set out to create the company with a mission to supply a legitimate substitute for meat that could be produced with a radically lower environmental footprint.
Convincing meat lovers that they can ditch the ever satisfying animal protein for some kind of vegan alternative is an uphill task statistically, culturally and as a matter of tastebud-votes. There has not been any shortage of research warning the public of the dangers associated with producing and eating meat – from the amount of water and energy needed to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. However, this can’t make vegetarians out of the masses so a practical approach here may be to bore down the path of creating healthy, tasty and seamless alternatives that will be embraced by the carnivorous majority. That is what Impossible foods is cut-out to achieve – where fast food chains, restaurants, and food companies could replace their meat without anyone noticing. This journey has taken them down the following technology highlights:
- They identified a molecule called heme that is found in plants and animals. Heme makes your blood red, turns meat pink, and gives the traditional burger delicious aroma when it’s exposed to sugars and amino acids. Impossible Foods injects this molecule into yeast, which becomes a temporary heme factory, using a fermentation process very similar to the brewing process used to make some types of beer. This allows the company to produce it in significantly larger quantities.
- The team at Impossible Foods examine animal products at the molecular level, then select specific proteins and nutrients exclusively from plants to recreate these key components of animal meat texture, muscle, connective tissue, and fat. For example, to replicate the fat in hamburgers made from cows, they use flecks of coconut fat, which are mixed with ground textured wheat and potato protein.
- The result? In July 2016, Impossible Foods launched the Impossible Burger, which looks, cooks, smells, sizzles and tastes like conventional ground beef satisfying even the most ardent meat lovers. Impossible Foods says that an Impossible Burger uses – 95% less land, 74% less water, emits 87% less greenhouse gasses than a burger from cows. This plant-based burger has more protein, less total fat and fewer calories than a similar-sized hamburger patty made with beef with no cholesterol, antibiotics or synthetic hormones.
For now, the Impossible Burger may remain a fairly hard-to-find item at a fairly high price much like similar new technology (e.g. Tesla electric cars). It will take some years before the startup makes enough meat to supply grocery stores and beyond. Currently, it focuses on select restaurants . . . The race for viable industrial scale replacements of animal protein is on. You can see some companies in the same field like Impossible Foods highlighted below. The technologies are promising and they continue to attract media and venture capital interest.
Beyond Meat: Is on a mission to create mass-market solutions that perfectly replace animal protein with plant protein. They believe there is a better way to feed the planet and are dedicated to improving human health, positively impacting climate change, conserving natural resources and respecting animal welfare.
Hampton Creek: is a company also headquartered in San Francisco that sells plant-based foods. Known for their signature Just Mayo, it was founded in December 2011 by Josh Balk and CEO Joshua Tetrick. The company’s products include mixes, dressings, cookies, and cookie dough.
Modern Meadow: applies the latest advances in tissue engineering to develop biomaterials to address some of our most pressing global challenges. The company develops cultured leather and meat products which require no animal slaughter and much lower inputs of land, water, energy and chemicals.
What is Impossible Foods?
- Impossible Foods is a silicon valley startup on a mission to make the global food system more sustainable.
- Founded by Patrick O. Brown, M.D., Ph.D., Impossible Foods has raised rounds of $75 million and $108 million from investors including Google Ventures and Bill Gates.
- They say their team of scientists and food researchers can make chicken, pork, fish or yoghurt entirely from plants. The Impossible Burger is only the beginning.
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