Photos: We Tried The Plant-Based Burger That 'Bleeds'
You may have heard about the "Impossible Burger" in passing. And, very likely, the crux of the conversation was that the veggie burger looks and tastes exactly like meat, going as far as "bleeding" like a real patty that's been cooked to medium/medium rare.
What kind of dark sorcery is this? Perhaps the patty was extricated from some plant-based being? Like one of those walking trees in The Lord Of The Rings? As reported at CNET (yes, CNET), the burger was engineered in a Silicon Valley lab helmed by Impossible Foods, a food-tech startup. The burger consists of wheat protein (which gives the burger that meaty texture), coconut oil (which mimics the melting qualities of tallow), as well as konjac and xanthan gum, which bind the mixture together. The most critical element of this enterprise, however, is heme.
Heme is an iron-containing compound that, according to the Impossible Foods website, is "uniquely abundant in meat" and "is what makes meat smell, sizzle, bleed, and taste gloriously meaty." It's also found in plants, and it's what gives the Impossible Burger its pink texture (prior to cooking), and what makes the patty bleed. Simply put: heme is the not-so-secret secret ingredient that serves as the lynchpin.
All this Neil deGrasse Tyson stuff is interesting, but it's all moot if the burger itself is a shoddy work of mimicry. So how does it taste?
We dropped in at Crossroads Kitchen on Melrose Avenue, where the Impossible Burger is served, to find out. And we're happy to report that, yes, it's perfectly meaty. What comes to the forefront at first bite is the texture. The consistency of the patty is almost eerie (in the best way possible). There's a moistness once you sink your teeth into it, and then you work through the slight give of the body. In terms of flavor, you get a hint of the iron from the heme, which is vital for that gloriously meaty flavor. There's also a cooked-meat aroma that fills your mouth as you're chewing; in other words, the patty isn't content with just being a passable facsimile, it aims at being flavorful.
Yes, there's the blood. It's not exactly a Dario Argento flick packed in a bun, but you can discern the redness. Does the visual aspect affect how we taste the burger? Possibly. In one past experiment, French researchers dropped red dye in glasses of white wine and served them to unsuspecting subjects. The taste-testers described the white wine with adjectives that are more commonly used with red wine, suggesting that our visual perception affect s how we perceive of the flavor of a food. Which is all to say that, maybe, the "blood" in the Impossible Burger isn't just there for show; it may factor into how we taste it.
Outside of the meat, the burger is stacked with the usual suspects. There are tomatoes, onions, and a dressing that brings to mind the tangy sweetness of In-N-Out's secret sauce. The bun is slightly toasted along the edges—a nice bit of detail that adds so much to a burger.
So, all in all, the Impossible Burger looks good on the dish. But what's it like back in the kitchen? Does it come in, say, a frisbee-sized petri dish? According to Crossroads chef and owner Tal Ronnen, it's all business as usual when it comes to the preparation. "It's like cooking a beef burger. You can cook it medium, rare, or well done just like beef. The 'plant based' meat is quite versatile," Ronnen said in a message to LAist.
The burger, up until this past week, was only available from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on weekdays. Now, a slider version has made its way onto the late-night menu, which starts at 10 p.m. every night. What's more, the "meat" has also found its way onto the dinner menu in the form of "Impossible Cigars," in which the meat is wrapped in a crunchy dough wrapper, kind of like a taquito. This comes with a side of almond yogurt as a condiment.
While the Impossible Burger is making an expansion within Crossroads, it's still hard to find elsewhere. According to Impossible Foods, the burger is only served in seven locations in the U.S., with Crossroads being the only locale in L.A. So, here's to hoping it catches on.
Crossroads is located at 8284 Melrose Ave, Los Angeles, (323) 782-9245.