- Impossible Foods now offers its veggie-based version of ground beef in supermarkets.
- Impossible already has burgers at Burger King (the Impossible Whopper) and White Castle, as well as a variety of smaller restaurants. This is the first time people can buy the ingredients directly and make their own Impossible meals.
- First, I made Impossible Burgers for lunch and dinner. Then, I made spaghetti with meat sauce.
- Unlike the burgers, the Impossible Foods “meat” sauce was nearly indistinguishable from the real thing.
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There are loads of non-beef burgers out there – turkey burgers and bean burgers and salmon burgers, among many others – and there have been for decades.
More than just pre-formed veggie patties, the Impossible Foods-crafted “beef” is a verisimilitude of actual ground beef. And that means, unlike veggie burgers before it, the Impossible burger is intended to be cooked like ground beef.
With that in mind, on a Sunday afternoon in late September, I set out to make spaghetti with “meat” sauce for dinner.
First and foremost, the raw version of the Impossible Burger looks an awful lot like highly processed ground beef.
Impossible’s “beef” looks very similar to actual ground meat – albeit highly processed ground meat, along the lines of Spam.
It has a kind of compacted feeling as well, no doubt because of the way it’s sold: in a plastic pouch. It feels condensed because it has been condensed. This is a notable difference from ground beef that often comes in long strands, directly from the grinder.
My initial impressions of Impossible Foods’ meat were not positive.
When I took it out of the package, it reminded me more of opening a can of dog food (which I, unfortunately, do every day) than opening a butcher’s package full of ground beef. There was a surprisingly strong scent, which ground beef usually doesn’t have, and a general sliminess to the product. That latter bit was especially bad, because slimy ground beef is usually a good indication that it’s gone bad.
About 25 seconds later, after I had more closely sniffed and actually tasted the veggie “beef,” things improved considerably. It quickly leapt from alien object to something more familiar: a kind of beef-like ingredient that my brain accepted as real enough.
By my second time using Impossible’s fake meat, I was no longer freaked out at all — it’s an easy swap for ground meat.
When I say “meat sauce,” I’m talking Italian-American pasta sauce with ground meat in it. You know what I’m talking about.
Maybe you’ve encountered it as “bolognese,” or “red sauce,” or “gravy,” or “ragu.” Maybe – just maybe – you and your partner started calling it “spag bowl.”
Whatever you call it, I made a relatively simple tomato sauce from scratch with meat in it.
I started that process the same way I always do: By putting a dutch oven over a medium-high flame and adding a generous amount of olive oil. When the oil started shimmering, I began tearing little pieces of Impossible meat from the package and dropped it into the oil below.
This is a crucial step in the sauce-making process.
Not only is the meat browning, but it’s leaving little bits of caramelised flavour stuck to the pan (“fond”). Those flavorful little bits get picked up in the next step (“deglazing”) and form the foundation for any good meat sauce.
Similar to ground beef, Impossible’s beef crisped up and left plenty of little flavorful pieces stuck to the pot.
I’m glad to say that, like actual ground beef, Impossible’s beef browned in the hot oil and left an abundant fond.
Something Impossible’s beef didn’t do, however, was render out a bunch of flavorful fat into the pot. Beyond browning the meat and forming a fond, something else happens when you sear meat: it renders fat back into the pot.
This is especially true with ground beef, and wasn’t the case with Impossible’s beef. Part of what makes a really rich meat sauce is fat – and Impossible cannot replicate this factor.
No matter how much coconut oil and sunflower oil Impossible adds to its fake beef, it cannot replicate naturally occurring animal fat in meat. It can come close! And it does come close with its ground-beef replacement. But it’s missing a layer of flavour complexity and mouthfeel that beef fat adds.
In every other capacity, Impossible’s beef more or less perfectly mimics real ground beef in a meat sauce.
Every step of the process of making this meat sauce went exactly as it would if I were making it with actual ground beef, and the results were indistinguishable. No caveats – I don’t think I could tell this apart from an actual meat sauce.
My wife also remarked as much. She didn’t feel the same way about the burgers – they were tasty, she said, but clearly not real beef. With the meat sauce, she was much more convinced.
It’s easy to see why – the sauce still had plenty of umami punch from the Impossible beef, and much of the beefy taste in a meat sauce is overwhelmed by tomato, garlic, and herbs. What it lacked in body from the missing beef fat was easily made up for with a little extra olive oil.
Here’s the end result: Would you be able to tell this was made with fake beef?
If the spaghetti looks a little large, that’s because I used bucatini (a slightly bigger noodle). Give it a shot! It’s fantastic.
Otherwise, the sauce above is exactly how I would normally make a meat sauce: brown the meat, set aside, caramelize onions and garlic, add tomato paste, deglaze pot with crushed canned tomatoes, add seasoning and browned meat, simmer for two hours.
As the two hours progressed and I occasionally stirred it and tasted, it developed in flavour like a meat sauce does. The meat got more tender, and the sauce began to “come together” – it started to taste like a sauce instead of a bunch of separate ingredients in a pot. With around 45 minutes left on the timer, the sauce had thickened considerably and the flavour deepened.
Most importantly of all: the Impossible beef retained a beefy consistency.
It looked and acted like actual ground beef, and added a strong flavour foundation to the sauce. If I didn’t know better, I would assuredly mistake it for actual meat sauce.
The final product was meaty, and savoury, and tangy, and a little spicy, and a lot garlicky — exactly like good meat sauce should be.
Unlike my experience with Impossible’s burger, making and eating a meat sauce with the Impossible beef was nearly identical to the experience of making that sauce with actual ground beef.
Most importantly of all, the end result was actually identical – a crucially important line to cross for Impossible Foods, which is trying to convert meat-eaters more than vegetarians.
For me, another crucially important line was crossed: My wife and I both went back to the pot for seconds.
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