By Rivi Landesman and Leah Gottheim, Kosher.com Staff
The “Impossible Burger” is rocking the culinary world right now, providing a plant-based alternative to the meat burger. This is not your typical veggie burger- this kosher, vegan patty remarkably looks and tastes just like a real burger. What’s the big deal about these burgers that’s getting everyone so excited?
What makes these burgers so realistic is an ingredient called heme, an iron-containing compound that makes meat taste like meat.
Demand for the Impossible Burger among non-kosher consumers has skyrocketed, and since the Orthodox Union (OU) certified it kosher in May of this year, the Impossible Burger has been appearing on the menus of kosher restaurants all over the country at a rapidly increasing pace. As of now, the Impossible Burger is not available in stores or online and can only be purchased at restaurants.
“Getting Kosher certification is an important milestone,” said Impossible Foods CEO and Founder Dr. Patrick O. Brown in a recent press release. “We want the Impossible Burger to be ubiquitous, and that means it must be affordable and accessible to everyone–including people who have food restrictions for religious reasons.”
As David Lipman, Impossible Foods chief science officer, told Medium.com, “From the start, Impossible Foods’ plan has been to become a universal offering, available in all regions around the planet… Our aim is to make delicious and nutritious plant-based meat, fish, and dairy products — for everyone, everywhere — with a much less damaging impact than products using animal-based technology.”
What does the Impossible Burger taste like?
According to Dani Klein, who blogs about kosher restaurants at yeahthatskosher.com, “I’ve tried the Impossible Burger now twice in the last week and a half. First at LolliBop Cafe in the 5 Towns (NY), a dairy cafe that was able to serve it with real cheddar cheese.
It was delicious. The texture, mouthfeel, and flavors were very similar to a real beef burger, and the flavor of the cheeseburger (the first time I’ve ever had anything that similar to meat with real cheese) was great.”
“Today, I tried a regular Impossible Burger at Paprika Kitchen in midtown Manhattan. No cheese, as it’s a fleishig (meat) place, just straight-up burger, and frankly, I don’t miss the meat. The burger was so spot on with the flavors, that I’m left satiated and satisfied, not craving meat thereafter.
It’s clear that when you look at it closely it’s not meat, but it’s fairly close, and it’s why Impossible Foods charges restaurants $3 per patty wholesale.”
We had to try this new burger for ourselves, so Kosher.com’s Rivi Landesman headed to the nearest restaurant that was serving it with dairy. (Gotta try it with cheese, right?)
“On first bite, I found that, while it was certainly delicious, it was definitely milder in flavor than a beef burger and nothing like soy or vegetable-based patties I’ve had,” Rivi said. “It really takes on the taste of what it’s served with, so I was glad it came with good toppings and sauces.
One of the burgers was topped with fried onions, wild mushrooms, saffron aioli, BBQ sauce and cheese fondue and it was fantastic – and the other was a bit simpler with avocado, tomato, cheddar, sriracha mayo and shredded lettuce. I much preferred the first.
“Texture-wise, it had a nice chewiness, and I could see sort of strands like real meat. There was a good, realistic redness in the center. One of the burgers I ordered was a bit overcooked and that really impacted the taste and juiciness, so I would recommend ordering it medium rare for sure.
“To me, the biggest deal about the Impossible Burger is that finally there’s a burger that doesn’t taste like soy or vegetables. However, it is extremely expensive and I’m wondering when costs are going to go down as I’m unsure how well it will do as a vegan burger at prices higher than meat burgers.”
Will the Impossible Burger succeed in the kosher market?
And, can the Impossible Burger succeed in the long run in the kosher market, where so much emphasis is put on meat and vegans are rarer than in the non-kosher world?
“I think it will,” says Charles Herzog, Vice President of New Business Development at Kayco, a leading producer and distributor of kosher foods. “Pareve alternatives to meat for a non-vegetarian are nothing new to the kosher observant Jew, there’s nothing here foreign to us. We have been eating pareve foods (not dairy, nor meat) forever.
Interest in plant-based protein has really been growing- we see it in categories from tahini to snack bars. Vegan is definitely making a comeback. While there have been veggie burgers on the market for years from brands like Dr. Praeger’s, this burger really mimics the taste, the mouthfeel, and the texture of an authentic meat burger. It has the potential to really disrupt the category.”
Chanie Nayman, editor in chief of Kosher.com and food editor of Family Table by Mishpacha Magazine, concurs. “In general, vegetable-based foods are extremely popular now, with all the different dietary needs, and for people looking for hormone free foods. The Impossible Burger is extremely innovative and will be helpful to many people. For kosher-observant Jews who have special dietary needs, or are vegetarian/vegan, it will continue to be popular.”
According to Dani Klein, the demand is already there. “The fact that so many restaurants quickly jumped to get the Impossible Burger on the menu so fast, I think is telling about the demand.
He does have his hesitations, though. “I do think that the frum community has a general hang up about vegan food and that it could never be substituted for meat. It may take years to change this perception with many in the community. Although I am a carnivore and I love meat, I also can appreciate really tasty vegan meals as well.”
What motivates kosher restaurants to add the Impossible Burger to their menus?
Yussi Weisz, the owner of Snaps Kosher in Lakewood, NJ, explains why he chose to serve the Impossible Burger at his (meat) restaurant. “It’s the hottest food on the market these days,” Yussi says. “Vegan, kosher, Pareve, looks and tastes like meat…plus, it’s the 9 days! An automatic winner.”
What have people’s reactions been when they tried it in his restaurant? “For the people that don’t eat meat, they loved it.” Yussi claims. “For those that do eat meat, they said it was the closest thing to a fleishig burger!”
Does the Impossible Burger handle differently than regular meat? What it’s like to prepare it? Yussi replies that “all you need is a hot griddle, 2 minutes on each side. It comes all prepared frozen in patties. No, it’s not something I would [personally] serve at my Shabbos table. It’s not flanken! But definitely the best vegetarian food option I ever tasted.”
Will Impossible Cheeseburgers ever become a staple, everyday item in the kosher kitchen?
For so long, many people have seen “the cheeseburger” as the ultimate metaphor for treife food, and some may be uncomfortable seeing a kosher cheeseburger go mainstream.
Rabbi Ron Yitzchak Eisenman, rabbi of Ahavas Israel in Passaic NJ, sees this trend as just like any other.
“As one of my rabbis told me when the Shabbos lamp first came out, and people said it would be maris ayin [create the perception of doing a forbidden action on Shabbos], it doesn’t take long before something like this becomes widely known. It’s like how all the caterers now serve nondairy creamer after a fleishig meal at a wedding, everyone knows it’s not dairy milk. Before long kosher cheeseburgers will become a davar yadua [something widely known]. I don’t see any problem with this.”
“I do think the initial buzz and excitement will wear off,” Charles Herzog says. “As they scale up production, and bring costs down, I really think it can become a mainstay in everyday diets.”
“In the future, if the Impossible Burger gets a lot less expensive, it will appeal to people looking to stay budget-friendly,” Chanie Nayman agrees. “If it becomes a genuinely healthy way to feed your family, then I think people will go for it much more. In Israel it’s more popular than in the States to give their kids soy franks and corn schnitzel for lunch and supper. So, I do think there is room for meat substitutes to become a more popular option in the future.”