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The plant based Impossible Whopper  recently added to menus at several Burger King restaurants. Jennifer Kiel
MEAT-FREE WHOPPER: The Impossible Whopper was recently added to menus at several Burger King restaurants.

Putting Impossible Whopper up against the original

Our Say: Can plant-based foods replace meat products?

The Impossible Whopper may be coming to your town. I was pretty surprised that my little burg was proudly proclaiming its offer on the Burger King marquee out front. The plant-based alternative to Burger King’s signature Whopper burger provoked enough intrigue to make me wait 15 minutes in a drive-thru for what was supposed to be fast food.

It had been some time since I had a Whopper — probably 30 years. It was my first job as a teenager catching burgers as they rolled off the grill conveyor, toasting buns and slathering them with mayo, ketchup, lettuce, tomatoes, pickles and onions. I’d assemble hundreds of them on 99-cent Whopper Wednesdays, so I can’t say I ever really craved another.

For this taste test, I had to order both — a beefy Whopper and an Impossible Whopper.

I had my doubts about it, but I promised to keep an open mind. The imposter has been touted to come head to head with its beefy counterpart in everything from taste and texture to sight and scent.

And, I have to say, I was quite impressed.

Burger-to-burger faceoff

I laid them out on my coffee table for inspection. First, smell. I remember that flame-broiled smell; it’s somehow a little different than grilling on the back deck — though my interpretation may be slightly tainted by teenage memories of long nights wearing a ridiculous beanie. I really didn’t notice much of a difference in smell.

Next, appearance. Other than different-colored wrappers, I don’t think most would see a difference. However, on closer inspection, the Impossible Whopper looked a little thicker and had straight edges, like it had been cut out with a cookie cutter. The beefy Whopper looked less perfect. And, although the two had the same toppings, the Impossible Whopper looked much neater, with a better mix of condiments. I wonder if that was stressed in employee training? After all, first impressions are everything.

Now, taste and texture. Being a beef lover, I’d love to be critical here; but in all fairness, they were very similar. The beefy Whopper seemed less thick, but it was denser. The Impossible Whopper was pink inside, while the original was not. Neither of them was particularly juicy.

So, all in all, I’d eat one again, if someone else bought it for me — it costs a dollar more than beef. It wasn’t terrible, especially if you are looking for a vegan option.

So, what’s in it?

The main ingredients in the Impossible Burger are water, soy protein concentrate, sunflower oil, coconut oil, potato protein and natural flavors. The secret, they proclaim, in getting the beef taste is soy leghemoglobin. Soy leghemoglobin is found naturally in the roots of soybean plants and contains heme, which gives the burger the beef-like aroma, taste, and pinkness. In animal products, heme is found in animal muscle.

One turnoff for the cheerleaders of non-GMO, vegan, organic and whole foods is that to save on soybean production, producer Impossible Foods is using a genetically engineered yeast to produce heme.

Nutritionally, a 4-ounce Impossible Burger patty has 240 calories, 14 g fat (8 g saturated), 370 mg sodium, 19 g protein, 9 g carbohydrates, 3 g fiber  and less than 1 g sugar.

A 4-ounce, 93% lean ground beef patty has 219 calories, 10.13 g fat (4.2 g saturated), 75 mg sodium, 29.72 g protein and zero carbohydrates, fiber or sugar .

I was a bit surprised by the 8 grams of saturated fat in the Impossible Burger, which is 40% of the total recommended daily allowance. And, while the Impossible Burger is better than most veggie burgers in terms of protein, it is 10 grams less than beef.

For more and more Earth-minded consumers, Impossible Foods says that compared to cattle production, “the Impossible Burger uses 95% less land, 74% less water and creates 87% less greenhouse gas emissions.”

It may have a meaty flavor and appearance, but it’s still missing a key ingredient to be a true hamburger — beef.

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