Most of us would probably admit we want to eat better. In recent years, we've seen fad diets and some people's digestive intolerances impact our perception of what's "better," as more people opt for oat milk and gluten-free bread regardless of whether or not they have a medical reason to do so. Is the volatility of how we define "healthy" something the plant-based meat makers should be wary of? After all, 95 percent of people who order burgers like those Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are apparently not strictly vegan or vegetarian. Regardless of these plant-based burger makers being lumped in with the rising tide of meat-free eating, said companies have been pretty clear that their common goal is to reduce beef production and benefit the planet overall. If there's one application that proves the meat-to-fake-meat tradeoff is as much about making a healthy choice for the environment as it is for the consumer, it's fast food. Impossible came out swinging early with a partnership at the humblest of slider slingers, White Castle, last fall after an initial rollout in the restaurants of respected chefs like David Chang in 2016. The company expanded to more and more restaurants thereafter and, despite the setback of a temporary supply chain shortage, won what is, to date, the biggest crown jewel customer in the category to date: Burger King.
Burger King tested the waters with a few limited-location introductions of its plant-based offering, the Impossible Whopper, before announcing the burger would go nationwide as of August 8, 2019 (for a limited time, officially). According to Burger King, the suggested price for an Impossible Whopper will be $5.59 — a dollar more than the suggested price of a beef Whopper at $4.59 — when it hits over 7,000 locations next week.
So how does the Impossible Whopper compare to its beefy counterpart? Burger King sent our office early samples of the new sandwiches along with regular Whoppers and, across the board, the Impossible Whopper was well-received. Generally, Impossible Foods has done a decent job of replicating the texture and taste of meat as well as the patties of its various customers (think the thin squares at White Castle versus the Whopper). Sure, when you look extremely closely at the patties, you can tell the difference as the plant-based burger is less dense (fluffier?) than ground beef. It also retains a pleasant brown color that some fast food burgers lose as they give way to a greyer tone on the grill. Inside the Impossible patty, there were spots of pink where the burger was less-cooked which more closely mimicked ordering your Whopper medium-rare.
As for taste, in full hamburger context, both Whoppers were pretty identical. When we tasted the patties themselves, however, we could pick up on the differences. The Impossible burger has a bit more saltiness to it and a smoke flavor appeared to be added in, whereas the beef Whopper has more of the iron-y and charred flavor Impossible's heme compound is trying to replicate. Still, most tasters in our office actually preferred the Impossible Whopper, or would at least not mind receiving it in lieu of a beef Whopper. One editor pointed out that perhaps in a beefier burger application, like at Five Guys, the difference might be more noticeable, however, in this application you could certainly fool somebody or at least make them not miss the meat.
Overall, with the standard set of toppings — lettuce, tomatoes, pickles, onions, mayonnaise — plus the bun, you can lose the Impossible patty a little bit. That said, same goes for the original Whopper patty, so by virtue of being just one part of a whole, the Impossible patty ends up a worthy meat-free swap.
So why isn't the Impossible a permanent menu item? It very well could be, depending on how this experiment goes. A BK spokesperson told me via email that "Launching as an LTO is fairly standard. We're excited to launch the Impossible Whopper now for a limited time, and we'll see how our guests respond. If our guests tell us they want more of the Impossible Whopper, we'll take this into consideration."
Curious to do your own comparison? If you order via DoorDash or the BK App between August 8 and September 1, 2019, you can score an Impossible Taste Test combo — a beef Whopper and an Impossible Whopper — for just $7, along with a $0 delivery fee using the code "IMPOSSIBLE" a checkout on DoorDash (and yes, that code is also good for free BK delivery regardless of whether you order an Impossible Whopper).
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