Friday, October 16, 2015

Not So Meaty Meat Burgers: Environmentally Friendly Alternative to Meat

Impossible Food - an upcoming start-up that primarily innovates in food production - plans to release meat-free burgers. Well, it does not sound too appealing isn't it, meat lovers? It is quite a common (maybe not so) sentiment that meat burger is better than its vegetarian counterpart, no offense intended for my vegans friends. But afraid not, because this startup is going to substitute meat in our meat burgers with plant matters, without removing the flavor and aroma of a conventional meat.

How will they do it? Well before answering that question, let me explain why the meat industry, or rather our current meat-producing farm, is bad for the environment. Animal farms are unsustainable and leave behind huge carbon footprints, yet the demand for meat is surging up as population increases exponentially over the years. Cattle farming, for instance, requires approximately 10 kg of feed and 15,500 liters of water to produce 1 kg of beef meat. In addition, increasing greenhouse gases emission is partly contributed by increasing number of cattle farms where methane and carbon dioxide, released from grazing and fecal materials, will exacerbate climate change and global warming phenomenon.

Now back to our initial discussion, how do the scientists working in Impossible Food replicate taste and fragrant of a real meat? Well, to do that, they need to understand the basic molecular principles of why meat tastes like meat. These scientists discovered that heme (yes, the molecule found in our red blood cell), plays an integral role in meat flavoring. The "blood" molecule, when in contact with specific sugar and amino acid, will unlock the characteristic taste of a meat. As such, by isolating heme molecules from plant matters, it is highly probable that the taste of meat can be replicated.

Taste is not the only important feature of a meat, the texture of the final product also determines if meat has been successfully replicated or not. In mimicking meat texture, these scientists have to isolate individual amino acid, sugar, fats, vitamins, and minerals from vegetable, fruits, and cereal crops, assess the texture that each molecule can potentially create, and reconfigure/reassemble them into a product that best resembles a real meat.

Tricking a carnivore is not easy, and this is going to be an uphill task for the company to synthesize meat-free meat that is on par or even better than its real meat counterpart. Besides taste and texture, there are many other properties that these scientists may need to look into to make the innovation a success, such as the fragrant, sizzling complexions, nutrient constituents, and even color. Let just see the responses of hardcore meat-lovers by 2016 (when the product is going to be officially released in the US). Hopefully these people will change their opinions from "in no parallel universe will I accept any substitute for meat" to "well, this is not so bad after all, even better than the normal meat I used to eat. Plus, I'm saving the environment."

To reward you for reading this post, enjoy this artist's impression of what the 'meat' burger would look like:

Wall Street Journal. (2014, October 7). Photos: Building a Burger in Impossible Foods’ Laboratory - WSJ. Retrieved from


  1. TO be honest, i cant wait for artificial meat to be real thing. Juan make it happen

  2. Hi Juan, an interesting invention that gives fast food lovers another option. :) Hmm, since its relatively new, i was thinking maybe the cost will be slightly higher unless adopted by large fast food restaurants. With a higher cost, consumers may want to try it since its new but whether they will continue to do so may be questionable. Perhaps, they need to sort support from other organisations to advocate their cause.