I recently heard Pat Brown, owner of Impossible Foods Inc. (and inventor of the famous ‘impossible burger’) on my favorite podcast –Freakonomics. Pat, who is a vegan, wants to discontinue the use of animals as a food source. His plant-based Impossible burgers are known for tasting as good if not better than real beef.
What’s the secret? According to Pat, the magic ingredient that makes his plant-based burger taste just like meat is heme, lots and lots of heme. Heme is a protein found in blood and muscle tissue that helps move oxygen around a body. The heme in the Impossible Burger comes from soy leghemoglobin (SLH), derived from genetically engineered yeast. Impossible Foods Inc. has various food patents that claim and protect using heme as food additives, flavoring, and meat substitutes.
For example, US patent US9826772B2 claims “A ground beef-like food product, comprising: a) 0.1%-5% by weight of a heme-containing protein…”. Similarly, US patent US10172380B2 claims “A method for imparting a beef-like aroma to a meat replica matrix, wherein the meat replica matrix comprises one or more plant proteins… adding 0.01%-5% (by weight of the meat replica matrix) of a non-animal heme-containing protein to the meat replica matrix…”.
With its growing patent portfolio, Impossible Foods could potentially corner the market in heme-based meat replica foods. It will be interesting to see what approach competitors might take. If you want to hear the Pat Brown episode on the Freakonomics podcast, the episode is here.