July 21, 2019

Cows Will Soon Be Obsolete

“Jon McIntyre, a biochemist who has worked in the food industry for 26 years, can tell you exactly what makes a hamburger so good. “That first bite, where your teeth sink through the meat — there’s texture to it, and flavor,” he says. “If it’s a really good, juicy burger, that flavor pushes out from your teeth, almost into the sides of your mouth, and you feel that really great sensation of the moisture. The flavor, you can almost taste it in your nose — that’s called retronasal.”

This harmony of taste, texture, and smell — call it the Full Burger Experience — is extremely complicated. Think of it as a trillion-piece jigsaw puzzle of animal proteins and fats and acids and fibers. Yet the notion that one can attain FBE without killing a cow is, suddenly, among the most lucrative ideas in food. Led by companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, high-tech, plant-based burger patties aimed at carnivores who want to fight climate change have seen soaring sales at restaurants like Burger King, White Castle, and TGI Friday’s. Nestlé, the largest food company in the world, just announced plans to bring a plant-based burger to U.S. supermarkets by fall. Plant-derived burgers from start-ups such Before the Butcher (just acquired by a major ground-beef producer) and Hungry Planet are also on schedule to debut before the end of the year.

It’s a plant-protein arms race, and everyone has a gimmick: Beyond’s latest burger, released in June, is studded with coconut fat and cocoa fat to mimic the marbling of beef, while apple-juice extract helps the patties brown during cooking. When Nestlé’s Awesome Burger hits stores (under the company’s Sweet Earth label), vital wheat gluten will give it a beeflike texture. A patty called the Perfect Burger, launched two weeks ago by Dr. Praeger’s, offers beet-juice “blood,” a shtick that some competitors have already ditched. The Impossible Burger has soy leghemoglobin, a molecule related to the hemoglobin in cow (and human) blood but found in the roots of soy plants. It’s this heme, as it’s called, that gives Impossible’s faux meat the iron flavor of your favorite burger.”

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