A Sizzling, Bloody Vegan Burger—Now at One of NYC's Hottest Restaurants

July 26, 2016

They're making a veggie burger that sizzles and bleeds.

They is, well, a couple of different companies newly focused on developing truly meaty not-meat. Today, David Chang announced that he'll be serving one of those bleeding, sizzling burgers, from California company Impossible Foods, at his newest restaurant, Momofuku Nishi, starting tomorrow, July 27. The burger took $80 million and 100 scientists five years to develop; at Nishi, it will go for $12 (including a side of fries).

The burger is indeed completely vegetarian, composed of about 10 different elements that are naturally derived and that you've definitely eaten before, whether you knew it or not—but that you don't have in your kitchen. (Think: textured vegetable protein, or TVP, for chew and squishiness; coconut oil for juicy melt-in-your-mouth-ness; a "fat tissue" derived from soybeans.)

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The most startling and notable among them is the one that gives the burger its bloody quality: heme, best known for being the aspect of blood that makes it red and oxygen- and iron-carrying. But this heme is vegan, a protein isolated from fermented yeast (!).

A few of the ingredients, including the bloody heme.

Even so, the heme is entirely bloody-looking and metallic-tasting, as though you've bitten your tongue. This is very disconcerting, but also a sort of scientific miracle. As food scientist Harold McGee said at a press event today, heme has long been part of the discussion in meat science, but Patrick Brown, Impossible Foods founder and former Stanford biochemist, made two heme-related discoveries in the R&D process of the Impossible Burger: (1) That heme catalyzes meat-cooking chemistry and is essential to the production of the flavor we recognize as "meat." And that (2) it is therefore, essential to the creation of a very vegetarian, very meaty substance like the Impossible Burger.

How did David Chang start dealing in veggie burgers? Patrick Brown of Impossible Foods and Harold McGee's have known each other since their kids played sports together in their California hometown, and when Patrick started to conceive of a product that would really taste and feel and cook and smell like meat but be more environmentally responsible, he consulted Harold (a scientist "interested in deliciousness," as he said today). Harold has a regular byline in David's Lucky Peach and—while we can't say for sure that Harold planted the seed between Impossible Foods and Momofuku—however the connection was made, the Impossible Burger passed David's taste standards. "I was genuinely blown away," he said.

Looks like a burger, smells like a burger, tastes like a burger... and cooks to medium-rare on the inside, too.

Nishi is the first restaurant to serve Impossible Foods' product, which arrives at the restaurant as "ground beef": hydrated and stirred together so it's ready to be molded into patties. (Impossible Foods' product isn't available in stores yet, but eventually the company hopes to sell it just as you'd buy ground beef, and at about the same price per pound.) David has also been experimenting with using the "meat" in dumplings, meatloaf, and "pork sausage" ragu.

And reader, I ate that burger, vegetarian that I am. And it did indeed taste meaty, though not exactly like meat (from what I can remember); my stomach even clamped around it in the same heavy way it would post-cheeseburger.

Would you eat a meaty, not-meat burger? Where do you stand on fake meat? Tell us in the comments.

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Kathy M. July 16, 2017
If this "fake meat" can be brought to market at the same price and with the same flavor and consistency as ground beef, then it can help to reduce the numbers of beef cattle out there eating and putting methane into the atmosphere. I am all for it!!

Beth August 10, 2016
So many people commenting here are completely missing the point of this. Eating meat is not sustainable and concentrated animal feeding operations (the most common method of producing a large amount of meat) are not environmentally friendly, not to mention being gross and not very nice to animals. These companies are taking much needed steps to try to produce a meat substitute for meat-eaters since we (I like meat) are contributing to the problem, not vegetarians or vegans. I applaud this work, and hope it becomes widely available. I'd love to try it.
James P. August 1, 2016
Why would vegans want their veggie burgers bloody? Dreaming about the Abattoir?
JoAnne L. August 1, 2016
Exactly! ?
Georges August 10, 2016
If it tastes like meat, why would you rather kill an animal than eat this? Sometimes it's not about being vegan but about doing the right thing.
Hannah W. August 1, 2016
Best veggie burger I've had HANDS DOWN comes from 61 Local in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn! You should check it out Caro!
Alexandra G. August 1, 2016
That's made by Lukas Volger, I follow him on here! p.s. I think he sells the mix in certain natural grocers too :)
Swati S. July 31, 2016
I would not eat this burger. Was hoping for a delicious veggie burger, not one that tastes and feels like meat especially in the stomach. If I wanted to eat meat, there are a zillion options. Faux meat is just unexciting to the majority!
Julie M. July 31, 2016
For someone like me with really bad mold allergies, 'fermented nutritional yeast' would be really, really bad. Not to mention all the processing involved. I only eat beef a couple of times a year, as I'm not that crazy about it anyway.
Jana July 31, 2016
I noticed that the author of the article ate one, but very glaringly didn't comment on the taste, mouth feel etc... just that her stomach clenched around it... sounds gross. Why would I want to eat meat substitute if I stopped eating mammals because I didn't like the taste in the first place?
That makes no sense to me. It does I suppose, if you stopped for health reasons. I don't like eating things that can lick and love me back...
Caroline L. July 31, 2016
Hi Jana, I'm a vegetarian who is usually pretty squeamish about faux meat products—I don't miss meat at all (but lots of vegetarians and vegans do see the value in faux meat products! I love this take from our contributor Gena Hamshaw: I also think there's a lot of value in this sort of product for people who very much enjoy eating meat but are concerned about the environmental impact of the meat industry, like the inventor, Pat Brown.)

It was very strange to eat this burger! I don't fully remember the taste and texture of meat, so I may not be able to be perfectly accurate, but it did taste very meaty (that savoriness that's so meat-specific) and the texture is similar—but I don't think it's perfectly spot-on. I thought it was a little bit sweeter than the real stuff, and the texture, though convincing, wasn't quite the same either, a bit crumblier. All that said, but was convincing enough that if I hadn't watched David Chang, Harold McGee, and Pat Brown make it in front of me, I don't think I would have felt so at ease eating it.
JoAnne L. July 31, 2016
Jackie H., I don't eat much soy. I do love the artisanal tofu made in small batches without preservatives when I can find it. Back in the 70's I served my young family meatless meals once a week and no one complained! We were never a huge meat eating family as in huge portions of meat as I've never thought it was healthy. I'm rather appalled at all of the 'paleo' eating going on these days but don't force my life choices on anyone and expect the same in return. My health has drastically improved over the past nine years and I enjoy the foods I eat. It's win win for me!
Jackie H. July 31, 2016
Yo JoAnne L,
To me, the "meat-y" versions are worse than a bowl of plain TVP, which IS a statement! I've been vegetarian since 1973 (way back when "vegan" was pronounced more like "dude, i'm veggin'".
Hamish July 31, 2016
Those buns! Sad, wrinkled, cheap buns. Why showcase your $80 million vegeburger in such a pathetic bun?
JoAnne L. July 31, 2016
NO. I've been Vegan for nine plus years and avoid processed foods. I am also gluten and corn free for health reasons. I eat as clean as possible and don't miss animal products at all. The processed animal product replacements are generally high in sodium, sugar and unhealthy additives.
It truly is possibly to make healthy, appealing, quite delicious Vegan meals without a lot of fuss!
rukahn July 31, 2016
Seeking foods ostensibly more healthful than traditional diets is not without hazards. For persons needing to avoid foods with high levels of purines (gout sufferers) and/or glutamates (migraines, seizures), nutritional yeast is considered a highly risky product. Agave, advocated to substitute for sugar, is also high in purines. Moral: study the ingredient listings!
bellw67 July 28, 2016
Not liking the "bloody" part. Sizzle, yes.
Jeff P. July 27, 2016
My question is the fat content. Having recently survived a mild heart attack and learned that it was related to the fact that I have a familial tendency to high blood cholesterol, I am paying attention to fat more than ever- especially saturated fat. Vegan for the sake of the animals doesn't resonate with me. But I do love burgers and if it tastes great but has much less fat, I'll certainly be making this part of my diet when available. Sans cheese of course.
VeganWithaYoYo July 27, 2016
I, for one, can't wait to try one!
Alexandra G. July 27, 2016
I think this is an interesting concept and it will be great for people trying to transition to a meat free diet or the vegetarian that craves meat on occasion.

Like a commenter below I do question the sustainability especially considering the alternatives already available. However, the market is already flooded with other non-vegan, highly unsustainable products, so really this shouldn't be receiving that much flak; it is at least a practical innovation.

I guess anything trying to replicate something *natural* vs. some arbitrary artificial franken-whatever will always be the brunt of comparison wars and analysis paralysis.
Lela July 26, 2016
This is disgusting. Great that it doesn't require killing animals but there's no way its more environmentally responsible to produce, plus it contributes to sustaining a market for meat when so many other options are many many times more sustainable and healthy. Gross.
702551 July 26, 2016
I have no philosophical objections to fake meat, although I am wary of the highly processed nature of this particular product.

And as we know, just because something is "vegetarian" or "vegan" doesn't automatically make it safe (like hydrogenated fats in most margarines).

I would be willing to try this product once just for giggles, but I wouldn't pay a dime for it unless I got some enthusiastic recommendations from other omnivores.
702551 July 26, 2016

This product from Impossible Foods is loaded with sodium.

A three-ounce portion of this vegan ground "meat" has a whopping 470g of sodium (19% daily value). A three-ounce ground beef patty (75% lean beef, 25% fat) would have about 57g sodium (just about 2% daily value).

Doesn't appear to be the Holy Grail.
Karl R. July 27, 2016
A quarter teaspoon of salt has 581mg of sodium, so perhaps when you take into account the usual seasoning of ground beef before grilling, it's comparable? Would be nice if the impossible foods burger left the seasoning to the chef though...
702551 July 27, 2016
That assumes that the Impossible Foods burger "meat" product is adequately seasoned (salted). If not, one would add additional salt to the already high sodium in this new product.

At least with raw beef, you have control over that. You're going to get a lot of sodium with the Impossible Foods product no matter what.
702551 July 27, 2016
For sure, I'm using less than a 1/4 tsp. of salt for seasoning a 1/3 lb. burger. It's less than a 1/8 tsp. maybe about 200g sodium. Combined with the naturally present sodium in beef, it's probably about 280g sodium.

If you make a 1/3 lb. patty out of the Impossible Foods product, it's 625g sodium with possibly more if the product needs additional seasoning. I've not tasted the Impossible Foods product to know if it is adequately seasoned. If the vegetarian product lacks flavor compared to a conventional non-vegetarian item, the frequent tendency is to add additional salt, sugar and/or fat.
Miachel P. July 26, 2016
Hell no. I give them props for concocting an entirely new food though.
Cindy July 26, 2016
Do you know if the burger is available at their DC location?
Caroline L. July 27, 2016
Hi Cindy! Great question. I think it's only available at Nishi in New York right now, but I imagine it will be expanding its reach very soon.