On April 1, 2019, Burger King introduced a plant-based Whopper to its menu, made with "no f**king cow." Because the announcement came on April Fool's Day, many thought the fast-food giant was pulling a publicity stunt.
A month later, however, the Impossible Whopper took the nation by storm. The burger was a hit for its ability to mimic a flame-broiled beef patty in texture and flavor, offering a menu alternative for vegetarians and people who want to cut down on their meat intake.
Impossible Foods, the company that makes the patty, holds several patents on its manufacturing technique. The patties are made with heme (pronounced heem), a molecule found in all living things that's also the substance that gives meat its meaty flavor.
Keely Sulprizio, director of communications for Impossible Foods, says the company devised a proprietary way to produce heme in quantity by genetically modifying the soy plant. "This approach allows us to produce a lot of heme with an extremely small environmental footprint, using a tiny fraction of the land, water, and resources that would typically be required to produce heme," Sulprizio explains.
Sulprizio notes that the Impossible Burger contains no animal hormones or antibiotics, is kosher, halal, and gluten free, and packs as much protein and iron as a comparable serving of ground beef from cattle.
Impossible burgers, sausage, and other products have been widely available at restaurants for a while now. Starbucks, Red Robin, and Cheesecake Factory are among the companies that have joined Burger King in offering it as a meatless option. But it has been, well, impossible to purchase Impossible meat for home use until recently.
In September 2019, Impossible began selling direct to consumers on a limited basis. As of this past March, the product was available in only 150 grocery stores. Today, it is sold in nearly 10,000 stores nationwide.
Now the Impossible Burger is available at more than 1,200 Publix stores in Florida and six other states, including most locations in South Florida. Prices may vary according to location, but a recent check-in at a Hollywood Publix turned up a 12-ounce package of Impossible Burger "meat" for $11.59.
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Impossible meat is also available at Trader Joe's and Walmart.
Sulprizio says the extreme growth of the product in the retail sector amid the COVID-19 pandemic is pure coincidence. "We first debuted in grocery stores last September on the West and East coasts and started off 2020 with the intention to massively grow our footprint in retail," she explains. "Our team has been hard at work to meet the demand around the availability of our product in grocery stores in the last six months."
In addition to burgers, ground Impossible can be used for meatballs, chili, tacos, and pies. The company's cookbook, appropriately titled Impossible the Cookbook ($29.99), contains 40 recipes, including churrasco skewers with chimichurri, Jamaican patties with calypso sauce, Thai larb with fresh herbs, and Szechuan mapo tofu.
Right now, Impossible's most popular products are its beef and sausage substitutes, but Sulprizio promises that more items are on the way. "Impossible Foods’ mission is to create a full range of meat, fish, and dairy products made from plants for every part of the world," she says.