So I tried an Impossible burger, and boy do I have thoughts.
First of all, let me get this out of the way: the Impossible burger is meant to replicate meat. It does this very well. Better, by far, than any meat substitute I’ve tried. It’s meant to be like meat, and it is.
I’ve heard hot takes from vegetarians that “nyehhhh we don’t want this, if I wanted meat, I’d eat meat!” This product could not possibly be less for you. It’s meant to woo meat eaters and would-be Meatless Monday diners. And I have sympathy: if all places make this their only meatless option, this would definitely be a loss for vegetarians who don’t want meat or meat facsimiles.
But here’s the thing: the last vegetarian option I tried at Burger King was terrible. It was a dry, stale patty made of pressed rice, peas, chickpeas and regret (I think?) They apparently do have a soya burger, but I’m not sure how that’s any less an attempt to replicate meat.
I’m a fan of the OG Whopper. I remember the first one I ever ate. I was a pre-teen and the first BK had been built in my hometown. I didn’t really know what to expect, so I’m handed this monster of a burger that’s just running with melty mayo and lettuce. It was so effing good and I’ve been a fan since. I even think a Double or Triple Whopper is a crime: the balance of a Whopper is sacred, a thin but vast patty between two pieces of hand-smashed bread with a gigantic slice of cheese, crunchy pickles and all that runny, wet, sloppy mayonnaise.
We’ve known since science fiction was a sparkle in writers’ eyes that fake meat is the way of the future.
The bun of my Impossible Whopper could’ve been a bread model. So tall and pillowy, unlike any Whopper I’ve ever received. The mayo was contained, mayonnaise-like. I’m trying to decide whether my sandwich contained cheese – I genuinely don’t know. There was lettuce, there were pickles, there were giant slivers of onion, but this burger was trying to show off. The staff wanted me to adore this burger.
Except the patty was dry. I don’t fault the Impossible brand here because I’ve seen juicy, runny Impossible burgers. This one was just very clearly overcooked.
And my god, was it salty.
I know that the Impossible Whopper is supposed to be flame-grilled, just like their regular patties. And I’m betting they’re grilled on meat-coated flat top surface. But I’m still not entirely convinced that the “flame-grilled” flavoring is entirely genuine. My patty seemed to be coated in a black crust that no Whopper I’ve ever gotten has borne. It was salty, like fake liquid smoke. Maybe all Whoppers carry a little of this stuff, but my Impossible patty was basically painted with the stuff.
I’m well-adjusted to the sodium content of fast food. It doesn’t normally stop me. But it was like there was a brick wall in the middle of this burger. I was exhausted by eating it.
The texture really impressed me, even if it was on the whole dry. If you’re a food texture weirdo (like me) who can be disgusted by graphic textural descriptions, go ahead and skip this paragraph. We good? Okay. I’m used to soya burgers having a texture that’s not quite right, so that when it’s in my mouth, I KNOW I’m not eating meat. If you’re in it to very intentionally not be eating meat – if you are like nyehhhh I want not-meat – that can be a win. But for Meatless Monday tourists (like me), a product that does such a clever job of replicating the texture of a meat burger is a revelation. There is grain and even vertical “strings” to replicate the connected proteins of a good, close burger meat. And there were slightly pink patches among the meat, no doubt meant to replicate a just-under well ground beef.
Much was made of the sodium content of the Impossible Whopper. Why, it was asked, would someone order this over a real burger if there’s no obvious health benefit? There’s more sodium, more carbs and less protein in an Impossible Whopper, though there are a little fewer calories, cholesterol and fat. It’s even a little more expensive. While I think they should work on tipping this balance a little more, the idea wasn’t to do anything but trick mouths into thinking fake meat was real meat. Zero more, zero less.
We’re looking at a future of growing food insecurity. Meat production is ravaging the rain forests. You know this. We’ve known since science fiction was a sparkle in writers’ eyes that fake meat is the way of the future. We have to woo meat eaters into believing that meat alternatives can… not suck. People raised on meat n’ threes aren’t going to be convinced by clearly-not-meat meat alternatives. Full stop.
And yes. Vegetarians should have not-meat options that don’t squarely approximate meat, because vegetarians are NOT meat-eaters.
But I think the existence of the Impossible Whopper is worth applause. Sure it’s a novelty cash-grab. But it’s warming so many people – including me, lifelong vegetarianism tourist – that meat alternatives can be great.