The Impossible Whopper, a plant-based patty promising all the flavor of ground beef without the environmental impacts associated with cattle production, was rolled out this week at every Burger King across the country, intriguing some but not fooling a taste-testing panel in Durango.
Four self-professed foodies agreed to participate in The Durango Herald’s blind taste test comparing the Impossible Whopper with the traditional Whopper. They came to a split verdict as to the imposter’s tastiness, but none of the four participants was fooled by the plant-based patty.
Seanan Culloty, former executive chef at Ken and Sue’s restaurant in Durango, knew almost immediately the Impossible Whopper was the impostor, but he determined it was better seasoned than its traditional competitor.
“I think it’s an awesome alternative to meat,” he said.
The Impossible Whopper patties are made and supplied by Impossible Foods, which says eliminating animal products from our diets will help “save the best planet in the known universe.”
Meat production occupies almost half the land on Earth and a quarter of the planet’s freshwater, the company says.
Livestock production also produces more greenhouse gas emissions than the transportation sector, according to a 2006 report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
Consumer decisions are not typically driven by an ethical sense of right and wrong, but rather a constellation of other factors, including convenience, taste and the actions of their peers, said Rachel Landis, who participated in the Herald’s taste test and is director of the Durango-based Good Food Collective. The collective is working to create a healthy local food system.
The Impossible burger is a step in the right direction as far as environmentalism, Landis said. For years, garden burgers have been hidden on grocery store shelves, and this brings meat alternatives into the mainstream, she said.
“This tastes like fast-food meat,” she said.
For longtime garden burger consumers, the Impossible burger might have less appeal because of its meatiness, she said. The burger is also cooked on the same surface as beef and chicken, unless the customer requests otherwise, which could be problematic for vegetarians and vegans.
To capture non-vegetarians, meat alternatives have to be “as tasty, if not more so, (than real meat). It’s got to look the same, smell the same,” Landis said.
Nick Gonzales, the Herald’s Food page editor, noticed a slight color difference between the two patties. He preferred the flavor of the Impossible Whopper. He said he wouldn’t have known it was an imitation patty had he not been anticipating it.
Karen Anesi, a local food critic, nibbled on the Impossible burger’s patty, so as to avoid being distracted by the bread, tomatoes and lettuce, and was immediately unimpressed. The texture fell short, she said.
For Anesi, it’s an unfair comparison to put a plant-based product against meat, she said.
“I don’t know if you are ever going to have the ‘best burger,’ if you are competing against a burger,” she said.
But she said she respects the idea behind the Impossible burger.
After sampling the Whoppers, Anesi took her burgers home to conduct her own taste-test panel with Zena, a standard poodle, and Buster, an Airedale.
Two out of three times both dogs chose the beef patty first. But after gobbling up the beef patties, they “eagerly” chowed down the meatless patties, Anesi said.
While discerning palates may not be fooled by the Impossible Whopper, fast-food junkies can purchase the plant-based patty for $5.59 with the knowledge they are helping reduce greenhouse gases.
Or they can go with the salad.