But the Impossible Burger doesn’t contain any beef. It doesn’t contain any meat at all. It’s made entirely from vegetation such as wheat, coconuts and potatoes, but it also has a secret ingredient: Heme, the molecule that makes meat taste delicious, which Impossible Foods Inc. recreates by fermenting yeast.
“The heme is natural and identical, down to the molecular level, to what is consumed from a cow,” said David Lee, chief financial and operations officer at Impossible Foods. “A cow uses plants and turns them into meat. We use plants and turn them into meat.”
A veggie burger company may seem like an unlikely candidate for hot startup of the year, but Impossible Foods has raised US$182 million from investors including Bill Gates and Google Ventures. And it has plenty of competition. Startups Memphis Meats, Mosa Meat and SuperMeat are racing to sell meat grown from cells in a lab, and Berkeley, Calif.-based Perfect Day Inc. said it’s ready to put animal-free milk — chemically identical to the real thing, but minus the cholesterol and lactose — on grocery store shelves by the end of next year.
Considering we already have a way to make meat and dairy, one that’s been working for the human race for thousands of years, it may seem like a lot of effort and money is being spent on coming up with alternatives, but demographic forces are putting the livestock industry and those who depend on it in a precarious position.
Even if we used all the cropland in the world to feed livestock, the demand for meat by 2050 will not be met, according to a study by research firm FarmEcon LLC that considered population and economic growth projections. And while meat consumption worldwide is growing along with population and incomes in developing countries, it has already substantially slowed in the Western world. For example, Canadian consumption of beef and pork has dropped by a quarter since 1999.