How does Hopdoddy’s new ‘bleeding’ vegan burger from Impossible Foods taste?

Earlier this summer, Hopdoddy jumped aboard the Impossible Burger movement, becoming one of only two Texas restaurant groups to serve the vegan burger brought to market in 2016 by Stanford University biochemistry professor emeritus Dr. Patrick Brown.

The marketing behind the Impossible Burger was strong, with the brand trumpeting that the long-awaited vegan answer to a beef burger actually “bleeds” like a burger, with the red coloring coming from heme, the same molecule that carries oxygen in your blood. Countless websites picked up the “bleeding” language and bloggers ran to Instagram free samples.

The Impossible Burger at Hopdoddy. (Matthew Odam AMERICAN-STATESMAN)

We got around to eating one last week at the Triangle location of Hopdoddy, following a few failed attempts to order the sold-out burger at the South Congress location.

So, two big questions: 1) How does it taste? 2) Does it really “bleed”?

In short: 1) It’s ok. 2) Ours didn’t.

The biggest tasting note from the burger was the umami flavor of fried shiitake mushrooms, though mushrooms aren’t actually used in the beef. The patty had a bit of beefy crumble to it, but the inside, while a little pinkish in coloring, certainly didn’t “bleed” at all. The oddest part of the burger was the texture. The juicy $14 burger had something between a crunch and a plastic snap to it, with a faint chemical aftertaste. Asked by our server if we would order it again, my friend took the words out of my mouth: “Yes … if I was a vegetarian.”

The Impossible Burger and its parent company Impossible Foods came under some heat yesterday when the New York Times reported that the Food and Drug Administration has yet to confirm that the star ingredient heme, made with soy leghemoglobin, is safe to eat. Impossible describes heme thusly: “Exceptionally abundant in animal muscle — and it’s a basic building block of life in all organisms, including plants. We discovered how to take heme from plants and produce it using fermentation — similar to the method that’s been used to make Belgian beer for nearly a thousand years. Adding heme to the Impossible Burger makes it a carnivore’s delight.”

But the FDA is saying to pump the brakes on the excitement.

From the New York Times article:

Now, its secret sauce — soy leghemoglobin, a substance found in nature in the roots of soybean plants that the company makes in its laboratory — has raised regulatory questions.

Impossible Foods wants the Food and Drug Administration to confirm that the ingredient is safe to eat. But the agency has expressed concern that it has never been consumed by humans and may be an allergen, according to documents obtained under a Freedom of Information request by the ETC Group as well as other environmental and consumer organizations and shared with The New York Times.

Impossible Foods bit back, telling Eater.com that it had done several studies with rats that proved the safety of the ingredient.

The article fails to detail the extensive safety testing and investigation that the Impossible Burger and its key ingredient, soy leghemoglobin, have undergone. In particular, a panel of food safety experts from three universities has agreed multiple times that the product is safe.

In addition, Impossible Foods provided the reporter with details about a rat feeding study in which rats consumed the equivalent of more than 200 times the amount of heme, in the form of soy leghemoglobin, that the average American consumes daily from ground beef. In addition to daily observations of overall health, growth and behavior, a meticulous examination of every organ found no evidence of any adverse effect from even massive overconsumption of soy leghemoglobin — yet these results were not mentioned in the article.

As the Times points out, the rush of a Silicon-valley backed food product rushing to market the way it might with an app was bound to run into some difficulty when faced with the staggering bureaucracy of the federal government.

For their part, Hopdoddy says it has no qualms with the innovative product.

“We are proud to serve the highest quality proteins and ingredients at Hopdoddy, including the Impossible Burger,” said Mark Adair, vice president of food and beverage at Hopdoddy Burger Bar. “Our guests’ health and safety is top priority. We researched the hell out of the Impossible Meat before adding it to our menu, and we have absolutely no reason to believe it is unsafe.”

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