For the past six months or so, seems like all the vegan buzz has been about The Impossible Burger.
It’s the “burger that bleeds!”
It’s the burger that has the appearance, texture, and taste of “real beef“!
It’s better than the Beyond Burger! Or – no, it’s not???
It’s dietarily vegan – unless, of course, it’s served with Impossible Sauce, which is not vegan, or served with cheese. Or, even worse, served on a non-vegan bun!
But is it ethically vegan? Oh, that’s a thorny question you don’t want to get into with a Facebook vegan group late on a Friday night, after everyone’s had a few NODA Hop, Drop, and Rolls. When everyone’s bored and feisty.
According to Impossible Foods, they believe it is heme- an iron containing molecule that carries oxygen around the blood and makes blood red – that gives meat its meat-like qualities. “You can’t make meat without heme,” said Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown. “But if we can make heme without using animals, then we don’t need animals to make meat.”
So Impossible Foods came up with genetically modified heme protein (soy leghemoglobin), that they believed there was already sufficient scientific evidence for safety. The FDA, however, thought differently, and required rat testing to determine the safety (of the ingredient, not the burger) before allowing the product on the market. Therein lies the issue – if animal testing is the only way a product can get on the market, is it still ethical to eat the finished product containing the tested ingredient? The animal testing has ended and the product is becoming ever more widely available – does the greater good outweigh the initial harm? Per vegan activist/race car driver Leilani Munter, Impossible Foods is currently shipping 500,000 pounds of Impossible Burger meat every month and are on track to hit 1 million pounds monthly by the end of the year! And how does this differ from eating other veggie foods that contain pea protein, rice protein, oat protein, and other ingredients that were also initially tested on animals? Like I said, thorny questions, friends, thorny questions.
My stance? As an investigative vegan journalist, and one who has many veg-curious omnivore friends who come to her for opinions and advice, I decided I just had to take one for the team.
Where to get the Impossible Burger in Charlotte?
The recently renovated Duckworth’s Kitchen and Taphouse on Park Road tested the Impossible Burger in April. Even at a staggering price point of $18.50 – no that is not a typo – the burger did so well it was added as a permanent menu item in May and the cost lowered to a mere $16. Indeed, the item proved so popular it has now been rolled out to all the other Duckworth’s locations as a test item for those markets.
However … however … on Hump day you can get any craft burger – including the Impossible Burger – and a craft beer for $10! (At Park Road location.)
My partner and I burned rubber getting there!
The renovated restaurant is airy, CLEAN, bright and attractive. The servers were all attractive as well – Duckworth’s hires some very friendly, let’s just say genetically gifted people. Our lovely waitress confirmed the Impossible Burger was extremely popular, but that the sauce wasn’t vegan. (This we already knew – hey Mr. Robert Duckworth, ever hear of a nifty little condiment out there called Vegenaise? It’s only been around 40 years.)
“But is the bun vegan?” I demanded. I do have an allergy to dairy which I mentioned but also – I hate eating burgers wrapped in a collard leaf! I admit, I turn into Sir Mixalot when I order a veggie burger. You gotta have buns, hon.
“The regular hamburger buns aren’t vegan, but the bun the Impossible Burger is served on is.” (This is turned out to be NOT TRUE. You have to ask them to swap out the bun for the vegan onion roll. More on this later; just mentioning it because the pictures in this article show the non-vegan buns.)
So we ordered two Impossible Burgers, sans sauce, and two NoDa Hop Drop and Rolls.
The first thing we noticed was that the Impossible Burger seemed a little small. The patty is actually a “healthy” portion size – 3 ounces and 220 calories. (And 20 grams of protein!) But if you’re a vegan used to the generous Jalapeno & Cheddar Burger or Cowboy Burger at Bean Vegan Cuisine, or an omnivore accustomed to Duckworth’s usual half-pound ground beef burgers, the size is initially surprising. It was enough food for me, but was not enough food for my average-size partner, and probably wouldn’t be enough food for most larger men. (My partner wound up ordering another $10 burger and brew.)
Does the burger bleed?
Sadly, I think this one may be mostly marketing hype.
When I did eat burgers and steaks, I used to like them rare – so I was intensely curious about a “veggie burger that bleeds!” Oh, yes, please put that one on my vegan bucket list!
Our first visit to Duckworth’s our burgers weren’t even faintly pink – they may have been overdone.
On our second visit (yes, we made two visits, in the interest of conducting a thorough investigation – the better the food is, the more investigations we make) we ordered our burgers cooked medium. This time there was a faint tinge of pink, but still less alarming than a beet burger. On my next visit, I will try ordering one rare and update this post with a picture. If you have been holding off on trying the Impossible Burger because of the thought of blood – don’t worry, order it medium or well done and you should be fine.
Does the Impossible Burger have the look and texture of real beef?
Absolutely. The outside browns and chars and forms a nice crust, the inside remains juicy with a fatty mouthfeel. And just look at the texture! Looks like a real hamburger to me and it feels that way on my tongue.
Does the Impossible Burger taste like real beef?
Yes … and no.
Let me explain. If you want a “meaty” tasting veggie burger, the Impossible Burger definitely tastes the best and comes the closest to “real meat” than any other veggie burger out there. Put it on a bun with some toppings and if I didn’t know any better, I’d swear it was real meat – a mid-range burger, and I bet many omnivores would, too.
However … if you are or have ever been a gourmet burger connoisseur, or made hamburgers at home from meat freshly ground at a butcher shop (as my family did – I wasn’t always vegan) …. yes, you’ll be able to taste a difference. Even then, though, it is meaty enough I think a burger connoisseur might think it was some other kind of meat, like buffalo or ostrich. “It’s good,” they’d think, “just a little different, somehow.”
Is it better than the Beyond Burger?
Oh, heck, YEAH!
Let me clarify that answer, too. As I mentioned, Friday night vegan groups on Facebook can get into heated conversations, and for awhile a popular topic was “The Beyond Burger is Delicious vs. The Beyond Burger Smells and Tastes Like Rancid Cat Food.” (It must be like cilantro – either you love cilantro or you have the olfactory-receptor genes that make it taste like soap. Either you love the Beyond Burger or you have the olfactory-receptor genes that makes it smell and taste like rancid cat food.) I am firmly in the rancid cat food/what the heck did my cat drag in last night that died three weeks ago category. For that reason I initially did not want to try the Impossible Burger, but thankfully I had no weird aversions to the smell or taste.
Is the Impossible Burger ethical?
I’m going to say make up your own mind; there’s an excellent article by Bruce Friedrich of the Good Food Institute that explains the issues very well.
I’m also going to say, the Impossible Burger is a game changer.
For transitional vegans: Oh, my stars and garters (to quote my great Aunt Martha). Let’s just say, when I was transitioning eons ago, I was eating Boca Burgers at restaurants because they were vegan and my only option – not because I enjoyed the taste. I was just choking the stuff down. (Like many, I did not become vegan because I disliked the taste of meat – just that I no longer wanted to contribute to the death of living creatures when there are so many other things to eat in this world.) The Impossible Burger is something vegan wannabes will look forward to ordering. Something that will make them think, “Hey, this vegan thing isn’t so bad! In fact, this is f*cking fantastic! I think I can DO this!”
For vegan and omnivore relationships: How cool is it for vegans to go to the same restaurants with their omnivore friends and be able to order something “not weird” right off the menu? Without having to ask a lot of awkward questions and making it seem like being vegan is really hard. And then you get your normal-looking food that looks just like theirs (except perhaps a bit smaller) and you’re sipping your vegan beer and your friends see you being all “normal” and sh*t and then they start saying things like, “Can I have a taste?” and “Hey, that looks pretty good – maybe I’ll try that next time.” I’m always aware of being a good vegan ambassador and trying to make a vegan diet look easy and enjoyable, and the Impossible Burger definitely helps with that!
For Meatless Monday-type omnivores, Reducetarians, and others trying to reduce their intake of meat: This is not the product that is going to convince omnivores to give up meat forever. (No product can do that; the change has to start with the man in the mirror, as MJ would say.) BUT it is a product I believe most omnivores would be very willing to add to their regular diet on occasion. A burger they’d be happy to order for its taste, their health, and the environment.
And did I mention the environment? Impossible Foods claims it makes the Impossible Burger with 95% less land, 87% less greenhouse gas emissions, and 74% less water than it takes to produce a beef burger. Seriously, peeps, if we don’t all start caring a little more about the environment, we’re all screwed – people AND rats.
A few final thoughts:
OK, the bun thing at Duckworth’s. We were reassured over and over, verbally by waitpersons and textually by customer service workers, that as long as we ordered the Impossible Burger without mayo, it was “100% vegan!” After checking out some vegan boards again on a Friday night, I started to wonder. I sent pictures of the buns we had to Duckworth’s via FB asking if these were indeed vegan buns. Once I pressed the issue, things started happening very fast! Customer service contacted the owner, issued an apology, and an account manager actually drove to the Park Road location today to check the ingredients of the buns! Indeed, they were not vegan and did contain milk products which I am allergic to. Turns out the only vegan buns are the onion rolls.
Solutions came fast and furious! Duckworth’s is providing immediate training to staff. (Who were, honestly, quite lovely otherwise – just not very educated on vegan or allergen issues.) Duckworth’s will also be implementing a “Build Your Own Burger” in August where you can choose your own patty, bun, and toppings, making it easier for vegans or those with other dietary issues to specify exactly what they do or do not want. I am honestly very impressed that they are treating this issue with the urgency and sensitivity it deserves. Mistakes happen, vegan mistakes and allergen mistakes seem to happen quite a lot, but I’ve rarely seen a restaurant respond so fast to make things right. (Many times, a restaurant never responds at all.) Duckworth’s definitely wants and values our vegan business, and after this, they do have mine.
Duckworth’s will card you. It is their policy to card everyone, even if you have been there before. Even if, like me and my partner, you are quite obviously in the somewhere in between the “younger than springtime/older than dirt” categories. So if you are going for the $10 craft burger and brew, make sure you have your ID.
Where else in Charlotte can you get the Impossible Burger? The only place I know for sure is Bar Louie, in the University area – but the bun is a problem there as well. It’s a brioche roll, you can order it not buttered but usually they still contain egg. Proceed with caution and do your research. Updated 8/7/18: Confirmed the PNC Pavillion also has the Impossible Burger. No idea what kind of buns, though.
Be aware that many vegans are confusing the Beyond Burger with the Impossible Burger. I’ve often read – again, mostly on vegan FB pages, on Friday nights – that Pinky’s has the Impossible Burger. No, they have the Beyond Burger. Also the iconic Nature Boy burger. And contrary to urban rumor, Pinky’s does have vegan hamburger buns.
Ingredients in the Impossible Burger:
Full Ingredient List: Water, Textured Wheat Protein, Coconut Oil, Potato Protein, Natural Flavors, 2% or less of: Leghemoglobin (Soy), Yeast Extract, Salt, Konjac Gum, Xanthan Gum, Soy Protein Isolate, Vitamin E, Vitamin C, Thiamin (Vitamin B1), Zinc, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12
Contains: Soy, Wheat