Originally published April 1, 2019. Updated April 15, 2019. Burger King has added a vegan Whopper to its menu.
The burger — developed in collaboration with Bay Area vegan startup Impossible Foods — is only currently available at select locations around St. Louis, Missouri.
If successful, the Impossible Whopper may be rolled out across the chain’s more than 7,000 locations nationwide later this year.
In a video published by CNET, editor Brian Cooley says that although the burger is “the Tesla of food,” it hasn’t been “widely available… until now.”
The new menu addition includes Impossible Food’s Impossible Burger 2.0, the latest iteration of the burger, which responds “better” than the original Impossible Burger in a restaurant environment, holding up to various preparation methods.
According to the video, the new Impossible Burger is able to withstand “the death-defying drop at the end of [Burger King’s burger cooker],” and it was this factor that eventually convinced Burger King to launch the product.
April Fool’s Day Launch
Pat Brown, CEO of Impossible Foods, confirmed that although the announcement landed on April Fool’s Day, the launch is real. He said, “you can think of it as a ‘meta’ April Fool’s Joke.”
He explained, “people will get a burger that they will actually believe it’s made from an animal, and be told it’s made from plants, and think it’s an April Fool’s joke and it’s not!”
Upon trying the burger, Cooley admits “what’s so good about it, is how unremarkable it is. It’s just like a whopper.”
The launch marks a change in the chain’s operating methods. The New York Times notes that the new menu option is the result of an unlikely pairing between a business that “promotes its devotion to beef on every Whopper wrapper (“100% Beef With No Fillers”) and a start-up that is committed to getting people to stop eating beef.”
The publication also reports that despite the success of other partnerships between plant-based burger brands and restaurant chains, a national rollout of the Impossible Whopper would mark the largest of its kind in the U.S.
The new burger also received praise from the Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore Tharman Shanmugaratnam.
“I’ve tried the ‘Impossible Burger’, and it’s actually very tasty”, he wrote on his Facebook page.
“This can indeed become a big deal,” he continued as he quoted a section of a Vox article on the burger launch.
“This is a huge deal for those who want to see meat alternatives replace actual meat because of concerns over animal cruelty or climate change. If this scales up, it could help save hundreds of thousands of animals from suffering on factory farms, and it could fight global warming by reducing the number of methane-producing cattle. It could also combat other problems like antibiotic resistance.”
Is the Impossible Whopper Burger King’s First and Only Vegan Option?
This new Impossible Whopper isn’t Burger King’s first foray into offering a meatless option.
The chain currently features a MorningStar Farms vegetarian burger on its menu. The patty isn’t currently vegan-friendly, however, Kellogg-owned MorningStar Farms has announced all of its patties will be vegan by 2021. This could mean that, in two years time, Burger King could have at least two plant-based burger options on the menu.
Several other items offered by Burger King are vegan, including its French Toast Sticks, Dutch Apple Pie, Garden Side Salad, Oatmeal, Hash Browns, and French Fries.
Impossible Foods’ Mission
Through partnerships with major restaurant chains, Impossible Foods is on a mission to transform the global food system.
The brand wants to show people that they can still enjoy the taste of meat, without the need for animal agriculture, and the destructive impact it has on both the environment and our health.
“We’ve been eating meat since we lived in caves,” the company’s website notes. “And today, some of our most magical moments together happen around meat: weekend barbecues. Midnight fast-food runs. Taco Tuesdays. Hot dogs at the ballpark. Those moments are special, and we never want them to end. But using animals to make meat is a prehistoric and destructive technology.”
Using plants to make meat, on the other hand, is progressive, notes Impossible Foods.
One Impossible Burger requires half the land of a traditional beef burger, one-quarter of the water, and produces one-eighth of the greenhouse gas emissions. The patty is so environmentally-friendly, it has even been acknowledged by the United Nations. In September 2018, Impossible Foods and competitor Beyond Meat were both awarded the title of “Champions of the Earth” by the UN.
“For their pioneering work towards reducing our dependence on animal-based foods, Ethan Brown [the founder of Beyond Meat] and [Pat] O’Reilly Brown have been selected 2018 Champions of the Earth in the category of science and innovation,” the UN said in a statement.
It’s not just the UN who believes in the company’s mission, consumers are on board too. According to Eater, the company had sold more than 13 million burgers by the end of 2018.
Impossible Burger 2.0
The brand’s original Impossible Burgers are made with textured wheat protein, coconut oil, and potato protein among a variety of other plant-based ingredients.
Its latest product, the Impossible Burger 2.0, is a new and improved recipe, made with soy protein concentrate, coconut oil, and sunflower oil. According to Impossible Foods, the second edition of its patty is even “juicier and taster” than its predecessor; it’s also more versatile and contains the same amount of iron and protein as traditional ground beef.
The magic ingredient to both the original Impossible Burger and the Impossible Burger 2.0 is known as “heme,” aka soy leghemoglobin.
The Heme Controversy
According to Impossible Foods, “heme is found in every living being — both plants and animals,” and it’s this ingredient that makes “meat taste like meat.” The brand’s heme is made via yeast fermentation and has been FDA-approved, but it doesn’t come without controversy.
Impossible Foods felt that testing its heme on rats would make a difference in earning the brand major successful distribution approvals — cue backlash and outrage from the vegan community.
Pat Brown — Impossible Food’s CEO and founder — justified the decision by weighing up the negative consequences of animal testing against the huge ethical advantages of achieving Impossible Foods’ end goal: eliminating the need for factory farming billions of animals with widespread distribution of its realistic plant-based meat.
“We were confronted with an agonizing dilemma: we knew from our research that heme is absolutely essential to the sensory experience meat lovers crave,” Brown wrote in a statement in 2017, which acknowledged and attempted to justify the brand’s use of animal testing.
“Replacing animals in the diets of meat lovers would absolutely require heme,” he continued. “So without the rat testing, our mission and the future of billions of animals whose future depends on its success was thwarted. We chose the least objectionable of the two choices available to us.”
He concluded, “nobody is more committed or working harder to eliminate exploitation of animals than Impossible Foods,” adding that he felt avoiding the animal testing dilemma was not an option for the brand.
“We made the choice that anyone who sincerely cares about reducing suffering and exploitation of animals should make,” he said. “We hope we will never have to face such a choice again, but choosing the option that advances the greater good is more important to us than ideological purity.”
Fast Food Chains Embrace Vegan Food
Impossible Foods isn’t alone in its goal of dismantling the food system and building a new sustainable, ethical future. It’s joined by consumers who are ready for change, some are driven by the environment, some by animal welfare, and others by their own health.
These shifting attitudes are in turn having an impact on America’s fast food industry. Before Burger King, White Castle partnered with Impossible Foods. After a successful initial trial period last year, Impossible Sliders are now available in all of White Castle’s 377 restaurants.
Customers have embraced the new menu addition. Magazine writer Peter Economy said earlier this month about the Impossible Slider, “the Impossible Burger didn’t just look, smell, and feel like a burger, it tasted like one too. I don’t mean ‘sort of’ or ‘kind of’ tasted like a burger — I mean it really did taste like a real, cow-based burger. If this is the future of fast food, then count me in.”
Fast food giant McDonald’s has also embraced the vegan movement, adding a vegan burger option at its global HQ in Chicago. The new McAloo Tikki — which is already served in restaurants across India — was introduced at the end of 2018.
Outside of the U.S., McDonald’s offers vegan-friendly veggie wraps and Happy Meals in the UK, and vegetable nuggets in Norway. It also announced earlier this year that it’s working on a new meat-free option for Australian customers.
The McDonald’s burger every conscious consumer wants on the fast-food menu is the McVegan. Currently only available in Sweden and Finland, the McVegan consists of a soy patty, flavored with mushroom powder, onions, and peppers. Forbes recently reported that more than 160,000 people have now signed a petition asking the fast food chain to bring the McVegan to its American restaurants.
Following in the footsteps of Burger King and McDonald’s, KFC — aka the biggest fried chicken chain in the world — has revealed it is working on a vegan option for its UK locations. According to the company, the new vegan product will have all the “amazing taste” of traditional KFC chicken.
“Veganism as a trend has really blown up,” said Jack Hinchcliffe, the innovation director at KFC, to the Telegraph. “We’re currently in the process of working on both vegetarian and vegan options in the innovation kitchen here in our head office.”