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The Secrets of Meatless Meat

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Check out this burger … it looks pretty legit. Turns out it’s made completely out of veggies! The meatless burger is a creative and energy-saving way to recreate the food we all love: burgers. The idea is catching on.  Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have become rock stars (not to mention popular with stars). On the outside, the meatless burger looks quite simple. However, the production of this new substitute has required years of development and PhDs in food chemistry.


Let’s start with Beyond Meat. Beyond Meat is a producer of plant-based meat substitutes, originally founded in 2009 by Ethan Brown. The company has created “meat” designed to simulate chicken, beef, and pork sausage. As the amount of emissions required to grow plants is a far cry from that needed to manufacture and process meat (especially beef), meatless substitutes are huge emission-savers. According to the University of Michigan, the Beyond Burger generates 90% less greenhouse gas emissions, requires 46% less energy, and has at least 99% less impact on water scarcity as well as a 93% less impact on land use than a quarter pound of U.S. beef.

Battling head-to-head with Beyond Meat is Impossible Foods, best known for its signature product, the Impossible Burger. Just one Impossible Burger (instead of a burger made from cows) will save the equivalent of 96% less land, 87% less water, and 89% less greenhouse gas emissions. This plant-based burger has more protein, less total fat, no cholesterol, and fewer calories than a similar-sized hamburger patty made with beef. The company’s mission is to drastically reduce humanity’s destructive impact on the global environment by completely eliminating the use of animals as a food production technology. They intend to accomplish this mission within two decades by creating the world’s most delicious, nutritious, affordable, and sustainable meat, fish, and dairy foods directly from plants.

So, if you really are a burger-lover, the Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger are giant emission-saving alternatives! Cut your emissions and carbon footprint by purchasing these meatless substitutes!


Now, you may wonder WHY these plant-based burgers taste so impossibly like meat that even your taste buds are fooled. The secret is a substance called heme, also known as soy leghemoglobin or legume hemoglobin. Heme, an iron-containing molecule that is essential for life, is found in every living being -- both plants and animals. Impossible Foods makes the Impossible Burger using heme from soy plants, which is “identical to heme from animals and gives Impossible its uniquely meaty flavor.”


Heme is an organic, ring-shaped molecule. It serves two known purposes: 1) to carry oxygen and 2) to transport or store electrons. As shown in the image above, gaseous oxygen can bind to the heme complex. Organisms use the heme molecule to transport oxygen and move electrons. Heme is named after the Greek word for “blood”, which is where it was initially found. The red color of blood is generated by the heme and iron ion interacting to absorb other colors and only reflect red. Another impact of heme is observed in chlorophyll, which is used in photosynthesis. Instead of iron, chlorophyll consists of a magnesium ion, and chlorophyll has different side chains than a heme group. This produces the green color of plants, rather than the reds and purples of blood. 

While Impossible Foods uses heme in their burgers, there are many more substitutes that can make plants taste like meat. For example, Beyond Meat uses beet juice in their burgers rather than heme.

To conclude, there are several meat substitutes that are extremely unique and efficient. To lessen your carbon footprint on our planet, look into plant-based burgers as a cool alternative!

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