I’m gonna be real: I love The Impossible Burger. I’ve been a vegetarian for more than a decade and it’s the only veggie burger that I’ve eaten and then felt kinda guilty about. Not because it tastes exactly like meat, per se, but because its texture is so firm, so juicy that even your taste buds might be tricked into thinking you’re masticating beef. And I’d eat it even if it weren’t safe. Which is good, because the FDA has some questions about the burger’s secret ingredient.
This all sounds nefarious, but here’s the deal: In order for its burgers to “bleed,” Impossible uses an ingredient called heme, which is made in a lab. (Nothing wrong with that!) In order to create heme, scientists take the genetic code from soybean roots and combine it with yeast, creating what Business Insider terms “a temporary heme factory.” The yeast is then filtered out and the rest becomes the burger that’s so good I ripped my pants trying to get my hands on one.
The problem? The FDA doesn’t yet know what to do with heme. It’s not like anyone’s gotten sick from it, but they also don’t think there’s enough proof that it’s fit for human consumption and not an allergen. The process here is complicated. Because the FDA doesn’t just “approve” ingredients, the task fell to Impossible to show that their food was “generally recognized as safe.” So they ran some tests and submitted the results.
Impossible Foods says it has performed “extensive safety testing and investigation” of the burger and its key ingredient. A panel of food safety experts from three universities signed off on the product as safe on several occasions, a company spokesperson told Business Insider.
The company also conducted a study in which rats ate more than 200 times the amount of heme — in the form of soy leghemoglobin — than the average American ingests daily from ground beef, every day for a month. The study found no adverse effects from overconsumption, according to a company spokesperson.
Now, the FDA has some questions. While the burger isn’t going to be torn from menus — oh my god, there would be a revolt at Umami Burger — the FDA has asked that Impossible demonstrate that soy leghemoglobin (I can’t pronounce it either) and the 40 other proteins that it contains besides heme be shown safe for humans and not just for our long-tailed rodent friends. Is Impossible up to the task? Let’s hope so, because this burger is so good it would be a shame if future generations weren’t able to enjoy it.