Taste-testing Burger King’s Impossible Burger
By: Jason Perlow
Whether it is an overall desire to pursue a healthier lifestyle, to embrace a more sustainable farming and food production methods, or for ethical or moral reasons, many South Florida residents are increasingly incorporating more vegetarian and vegan products into their diets.
In response to this national trend, Miami-based Burger King partnered with Impossible Foods to roll out a plant-based Whopper burger, which uses Impossible Meat instead of the signature beef patty.
The Impossible Whopper is being tested in several markets, and its availability is limited to 128 locations in South Florida, 58 in St. Louis, and 48 spread out over Georgia and Alabama. As South Florida residents, we get to try the Impossible Whopper before almost anyone in the entire country.
The Impossible Burger is not to be confused with Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger. The Beyond Burger has been available to most grocery outlets alongside restaurants, including all BurgerFi locations. Meanwhile, Impossible Meat is available in select restaurants in South Florida, and it is currently sold only to the restaurant industry in bulk bricks.
The two products are similar, but not exactly the same. The Beyond Burger is primarily pea protein based, whereas Impossible Burger (2.0 version) consists of mostly soy protein, potato protein, coconut oil, sunflower oil, and heme, a protein that can mimic the “bloodiness” of meat. Additionally, the patty used in the Impossible Whopper has extra flavors incorporated to mimic the taste of a Burger King hamburger. It is also formed to fit on a Burger King Whopper bun.
The nutritional facts of the Impossible Whopper are as follows:
The original Whopper has 660 calories, 40 grams of fat, and 28 grams of protein. The Impossible Whopper comes in at 630 calories, 34 grams of fat (saturated), and 25 grams of protein.
The Impossible Whopper is considerably lower in cholesterol — 10 milligrams compared to 90 milligrams — but has more sodium at 1,240 milligrams compared to 980 milligrams.
Aside from technical concerns, the real question on everyone’s minds is whether artificial meat tastes like the real thing.
In the greater Coral Springs and Parkland area, you can get the Impossible Whopper at all three Coral Springs locations in addition to other locations in Miami-Dade and Broward counties. As of press time, it is not available in Palm Beach County.
For our first taste test, we purchased three variations of Impossible Whopper from the Coconut Creek branch: Vegan, Regular, and Cheese.
Why did we get three variations? In addition to wanting to taste more of the plain patty itself, we were bringing it to our vegan friends in Boca Raton who wished to give it a try. The “Regular” Impossible Whopper is cooked on the very same broiler as the beef burgers, and it was dressed with mayonnaise making it unacceptable to vegan diners. The vegan version, in addition to omitting mayonnaise, is also microwaved to avoid contamination by the beef burgers on the conveyance style broiler.
To maintain the burgers in prime condition for tasting, we preserved the temperature of the sandwiches using heated aluminum wrapped bricks. This method allowed us to simulate the storage conditions of a fast food restaurant and kept the burgers from going cold. While this appears to be the accepted practice in other venues serving fast food items, we didn’t think our audience would appreciate room temperature Whoppers.
Lest anyone think these burgers look anything like they do in commercials and other marketing materials, they are pretty mediocre and lousy-looking fast food burgers when unwrapped, with off-season tomatoes and iceberg lettuce with highly processed sesame seed buns. Thus manage your expectations accordingly if you haven’t been to a Burger King in a long time.
The first sample was the microwaved, mayo-free vegan version. While the two vegans on the tasting panel thought it tasted “just like Burger King” with a distinct char-broiled taste, the patty was excessively salty and lacks the juicy and fatty flavor of the original. You should skip this option unless you are opposed to animal products on moral and ethical grounds.
When paired with mayonnaise and cheese — cooked on the same conveyor as the beef burgers, the flavor improved considerably. As a matter of fact, without a regular beef Whopper as a reference, the Impossible Meat version is nearly indistinguishable from regular Burger King fare. Maybe that’s the entire point of this product — an alternative to the Whopper for those who are vegetarian, while still acceptable to vegans.
If you’re inclined to choose alternative options on the menu, order a small bag of onion rings and use them to top your Impossible Whopper. You’ll be glad you did.
The real test came the following day at home, with a different group of tasters including a certified beef aficionado. For this test, we purchased the burgers from the Coral Springs location on Sample Road through the drive-in window. I drove the sandwiches home and placed them in a 150-degree oven to keep warm until our guests arrived.
For this test, we tasted a regular beef Whopper against a regular Impossible Whopper with mayonnaise. We consumed them in the style of a blind taste test — we weren’t allowed to scrutinize each piece for too long, and we had to eat them within a few minutes of each other.
The difference is considerable. The two burgers do not taste similar, nor do they have a similar texture. While both have the charbroiled flavor, the Impossible Whopper has a synthetic and salty grilled flavor. On the other hand, the beef version tastes more natural, with a texture and taste that can only come from real ground beef.
Do they both taste like fast food hamburgers? Are they both heavily processed? Absolutely. But nobody in their right mind would consume these two products side by side and confuse an Impossible Whopper with a real beef Whopper. The differences are quite distinct.
Overall, I think it is quite admirable for Burger King to seek plant-based meat alternatives, as soy is a much more sustainable protein from an agricultural standpoint. As an advanced civilization, it is our obligation to investigate other avenues of providing alternatives to animal protein outside of terrestrial farming, which is a highly energy-intensive process that requires much more land and energy to yield per pound than plant-based protein equivalents.
The Impossible Whopper is a step towards a wholesale revolution in the production of food protein in a world with an exploding population and increasingly scarce resources. While Impossible Meat might need some time to perfect in terms of taste and texture, the current product is edible and inoffensive-tasting. On the other hand, it’s still fast food, and nobody should be under any illusion that eating these sandwiches are healthy. I look forward to trying Impossible Meat again in a different setting.
The revolution is upon us, but the products are not quite perfect enough for more discerning diners. Yet.
Jason Perlow is a long-time foodie who spent 20 years in the New York City and New Jersey metro areas reviewing restaurants for The New York Times and his personal food blog, Off The Broiler, which he started in 2006 and ran for ten years. He is also the founder of eGullet, a popular food discussion site and not-for-profit organization that was formed in 2001, which was featured on Tony Bourdain’s “No Reservations” cable television program.
As a technologist by profession, he writes the Tech Broiler blog for CBS’s ZDNet web site. He has been a Coral Springs resident since moving to South Florida in 2012.
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