A leader in the fake-meat industry has a few tricks up its sleeve for the new year. Impossible Foods — which first created the beef substitute that cooks, chews, and bleeds like meat (but is actually made from potato and wheat protein) — is not only retooling its beef recipe and rolling out non-burger shaped ground beef, but it’s also hoping to conquer what some consider the holy grail of meat dishes: the steak.
In an interview with The Spoon about the Impossible Burger 2.0, the company’s CEO and founder Pat Brown described plans to make an Impossible version of “whole cuts of beef,” with a goal of creating a sustainable and meat-free “world-class” steak. Brown acknowledges that there’s “huge symbolic value” in steak — and in its mission, Impossible Foods calls attention to the notion of meat as a ritualized food at barbecues, taco Tuesdays, and at ballparks, among other events. “Those moments are special, and we never want them to end,” the mission reads. “But using animals to make meat is a prehistoric and destructive technology.”
Brown gave little away in terms of Impossible Foods’ plan of attack for creating the perfect cut of fake steak, and with a goal of using plants to make faux meat just as desirable as the real thing, the company hopes to disrupt the commercial meat industry in the name of environmentalism. Yet the company faces a new challenge when it comes to replicating the coveted steak.
Real meat remains a bit of a tender point for Americans who relate it to identity. And what steak in particular represents — the symbolic value Brown alludes to — tends to center around ideas of luxury (the idea of splurging on a good cut of meat), masculinity (generations of the male-only steakhouse), or cultural heritage tied to the actual animal, which may keep people from diving headfirst into an alternative. Additionally, a portion of meat eaters feel an entitlement toward meat, believing that it belongs in their diets, meaning they’re unlikely to seek an alternative in the first place.
Impossible’s steak might catch the eye of some folks aiming to reduce or cut their meat intake, but unlike the more-forgiving recipes that make fake ground beef passable (and in some cases delicious: Eater’s Ryan Sutton declared White Castle’s Impossible slider the best fast-food burger), steak eaters will likely still want to hang onto what makes a steak a steak: not just the flavor, but also the texture. For real steak, it’s painfully obvious that any cut of meat has been, well, cut from a living thing — it can be fatty, rich, and sinewy and, notably, contiguous, unlike ground beef.
In addition to potato and wheat protein, Impossible meat uses heme protein to add flavor, coconut oil for fat, and konjac and xanthan for the shape. The 2.0 version, which has received positive reviews, subs in soy protein for wheat, adds methylcellulose as a binder, and adds sunflower oil to reduce saturated fat, promising an end product that’s “beefier in texture, and with just a bit of dietary fiber.” The product is entirely plant-based, but still holds the same protein levels as traditional ground beef.
Impossible Foods must find a way to replicate those qualities to come close to replicating steak, which it considers crucial in order to, as Brown told The Spoon, “compete against the incumbent beef industry.” To do that, Impossible Foods will have to ask meat lovers to forego what make a steak a steak.
• Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown says They’ll Tackle Steak Next [The Spoon]
• Impossible Foods Tackles the Most Impossible Meatless Meat: The Steak [The Takeout]
• Meat-free ‘Impossible Burger 2.0’ Tastes Even Closer to the Real Deal [Engadget]
• The Red-Blooded Politics of Red Meat in Texas [E]