You’ve heard of the “uncanny valley,” right? It’s meant to describe the revulsion or unease people feel towards artificial representations of humans — unless they either look nothing like us or simulate us perfectly. To greatly simplify the idea, the more human-like artificial intelligence becomes, the more it makes us uncomfortable. That is, until we come out the other side with perfectly realistic disco robots, like in Ex Machina.
This is what I was contemplating as I sat in a weird half-booth facing the wall at a Los Angeles Burger King earlier this week. Staring at the yellowed wallpaper — decorated with BK-initials and squiggly lines — I began to lose my sense of reality. I grew disoriented, simultaneously eating two separate halves of the same burger. Looking at the remains of them both, under the flickering neon lights, I grew unsure which was which. Time stretched and collapsed in odd rhythms as I went back and forth between bites.
One of the burgers in front of me was the Classic BK Whopper; the other was the just-released Impossible Whopper. I was tasked with taste testing them both, pitting their flavors against each other. This proved confusing but not impossible. Because though the new, plant-based Whopper had officially passed the Turing Test of my taste-buds, I did have a favorite between the two.
A Tale Of Two Burgers: The Impossible Whopper vs The Whopper OG
See the two burgers above? Quick, which is real and which is fake? They look nearly indistinguishable from each other, right? Sure, eagle-eyed meat 2.0 aficionados might remark on the presence of what appears to be congealed coconut oil, and protein-heads might point to the fact that real meat tears unevenly, but to the average eye, the Impossible Whopper and the Whopper look the same.
For reference, Burger King’s Whopper consists of a single charbroiled meat patty on a sesame bun with mayo, ketchup, tomatoes, pickles, onions, and lettuce. I ordered both Whoppers with cheese and without mayo and ketchup for side-by-side photography purposes. (Trust me, either Whopper with its mayo and ketchup intact doesn’t make for a good photo — like a grisly murder scene from the 1920s.)
As I first bit into the Impossible Whopper — at this point, they still had their wrappers on — I was greeted with the unmistakable charred flavor that burgers from BK are known for. The texture of the patty was slightly grainy, but the flavors of the sandwich cut through cleanly. While looks make it hard to differentiate which burger is which, the smell is a giveaway. The Impossible Whopper doesn’t smell like meat — it has a nutty, health food store smell to it, which is to be expected.
Biting into the Original Whopper I was met with the same charred flavor, but it was much more muted and muddied by the taste of the meat patty. This wasn’t necessarily a good thing. Burger King isn’t exactly known for the quality of their meat and the Whopper patty was dry, nervy, and desperately in need of the ketchup and mayo I’d forgone. While I was expecting the rich and beefy smell I’ve come to expect from a juicy burger, the Whopper smelled like… nothing. No health food aroma but no once-living flesh either. Just bread and onions.
I took a few more bites of the Impossible, had some fries, drank a swig of Coke. Each bite was the same as the last. The OG Whopper offered way less consistency, with the quality of the meat patty varying with each bite. The flavor of the real meat also lingered much longer. Unlike the Impossible, the OG flavor could cut through the next sip of soda or bite of fries.
Is that a good or bad thing? I guess it depends on what you want out of a Whopper, but its the only real noticeable difference I found while eating the two burgers. For me, I found myself liking the one-and-done flavor of the Impossible Whopper. No offense to Burger King, but if I’m eating a Whopper I don’t want that taste and smell hanging on me once the meal is over.
So Which One Deserves Your Money?
Straight up, you’re better off ordering the Impossible Whopper over its beefed-out sibling, every time. Meat 2.0 isn’t solely made for vegans and vegetarians looking for a meatless alternative that checks all the flavor boxes of a burger. The goal here is also to create an alternative to meat that tastes and looks just as good as a traditional beef burger but houses a significantly smaller carbon footprint, and the Impossible Whopper is just that.
While we don’t know the exact carbon footprint of a Whopper vs an Impossible Whopper, according to data collected by Food Dive and verified by Swiss sustainability group, Quantis, the carbon footprint of the Impossible patty is 89% smaller than a burger made from real beef. The processing of an Impossible patty accounts for 87% less water usage, 96% less land usage, 89% fewer greenhouse gas emissions and 92% fewer aquatic pollutants.
Simply put, the Impossible Whopper is better for the environment than a traditional Whopper and its flavor is clearly better if you’re asking me. At the very worst — say you want BK meat breath to carry you through the afternoon — it’s too close to call. I’ve tried many burgers made with plant-based alternatives, from the Impossible Umami to the Beyond Famous Star, and I’ve never felt like they adequately replaced the real thing, delicious as they may be.
At Burger King, they’ve crafted a worthy successor to the crown. A True King of the Turing.