The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is held in Las Vegas every January and is most famous as the venue where many of the most impressive, and outlandish, examples of the latest technology in the world are revealed to the media and general public.
The tech on show is also well known for often never making it to commercial reality. However, this year, there was a far greater emphasis of tech which is actually on the brink of being launched for sale. And from among all of the futuristic TVs, laptops, IoT smart appliances, robots, driverless vehicles and VR, the product that was widely voted as the show’s most impressive tech innovation turned out to be….a veggie burger.
Voted as ‘Top Tech of CES 2019’ by Digital Trends and ‘Most Unexpected Product’ by Engadget, two of the tech world’s most influential media, as well as the subject of almost universal rave reviews, Californian ‘food tech’ start-up Impossible’s 2.0 burger, made entirely of plant-based ingredients, was the star of the show.
Designed to taste, look and smell like a beef burger, the Impossible 2.0’s impressive debut was all the more notable for being the first time a food product was permitted as a CES exhibit. If the trend continues the Consumer Electronics Show might be in need of a name update to Consumer Technology Show.
The Impossible 2.0 is described by Digital Trends as ‘food engineering at its finest’ and has been described as close to impossible to tell apart from a genuine beef burger in a blind taste test. Its success lies in the incorporation of a molecule called ‘heme’ that Impossible have managed to produce from genetically engineered yeast. Heme carries iron and is a key part of what gives meat its flavour. However, the Impossible 2.0 is the first example of any ‘faux’ meat to incorporate heme.
Impossible’s first plant-based burger alternative, the 1.0, was well received but the general consensus was, while an improvement on previous attempts to replicate the beef experience, it was still possible to tell it wasn’t the real thing. However, the addition of heme and other tweaks to the 2.0 seems to have done the trick. One reviews, CNET’s Dara Kerr described the difference as the 1.0 being taste comparable to “an OK Sizzler steak” (a modestly-priced U.S. based family restaurant chain), while the 2.0 is like “a well-massaged Kobe ribeye”.
Plant-based meat alternatives that actually taste like good quality meat are important for two reasons. The first is as a vegetarian alternative for individuals who enjoy the taste of meat but shun it for ethical reasons, believing mass farming of animals for meat to be unnecessarily cruel. The second, with potentially even more significant repercussions, is as an alternative for meat eaters who, while happily omnivorous, recognise the significant environmental impact of particularly cattle farming.
Animal agriculture is believed to account for around 20% of all global greenhouse gas emissions, responsible for the catastrophic effects of global warming with cattle by far the biggest contributor. As the world’s human population continues to grow, and get wealthier, the demand for meat is soaring. Viable meat alternatives such as those Impossible are working on are considered the most realistic solution to balancing the need and demand for meat with environmental considerations.
Impossible’s next challenge is producing a plant-based steak that similarly impresses. Steak is a significantly more challenging meat product to replicate due to the specific texture of the food. However, as Impossible Foods CEO Pat Brown says, his company has one competitive advantage:
“Unlike the cow, we get better at making meat every single day.”