CEO of Impossible Foods speaks at Nebraska

Impossible Foods
Patrick O. Brown, CEO of Impossible Foods discussing the future of meat on Feb. 20 at Nebraska Innovation Campus.

March 20, 2017

Lincoln, Neb. — Patrick O. Brown, founder and CEO of Impossible Foods spoke at Nebraska Innovation Campus on Feb. 20.

Six years ago Brown quit his job as a biochemistry professor at Stanford to pursue the possibility of making foods that were less destructive to the environment. His goal was to find a way to sustainably transform plants into meat, without any compromise to the pleasure or nutrition that conventional burgers made of meat provide.

Brown founded Impossible Foods and put together a team of scientists which he refers to as “the most innovative team to ever work in the food industry.” Brown and his team studied and tried to understand on a molecular level what it is about meat that people love so much.

The overall strategy was to study all of the properties of meat, including the color, flavor, aroma, texture, the juiciness, the way it feels when chewed and the textural transformations that happen during the cooking process. Then they worked to combine and transform the materials and assemble them together to produce a final product that had all the properties they wanted.

Brown and his team discovered that heme, a molecule found in every living cell, is what gives meat its distinct flavor.

Brown stated that “all those animal tissues that are consumed as meat have heme levels that are a couple of orders of magnitude higher than you’ll find in almost any plant tissue.”

According to Brown, “the way heme works to generate meat flavor is that besides binding oxygen, heme is a great catalyst of chemical reactions. The flavor of raw meat is actually due to heme, and its due to heme actually catalyzing chemical reactions that convert an abundant fatty acid in your saliva into these volatile odorant compounds that have a metallic, bloody smell.”

Brown and his team are using a plant derived heme protein called leghemoglobin that is virtually identical in structure and chemical properties to the myoglobin in meat and confers the same red color and same meaty taste. They introduced the leghemoglobin gene into yeast’s own synthetic pathway to produce enough heme, making it a great leghemoglobin factory.

According to Brown, “It is grown throughout these yeast cells, which would ordinarily be kind of the faintest, sort of off-white, are bright red, and then we can purify that protein on an industrial scale.”

In the beef state of Nebraska, protein derived from animals remains preeminent. According to the University of Nebraska beef cattle production experts, “The beef industry is an important economic driver in Nebraska. Use of resources in the beef industry in a responsible and sustainable system is vital to the future of the industry.”

In attendance at the seminar were many University of Nebraska-Lincoln Food Science and Technology students. Also in the audience was Clint Krehbiel, department head and professor of animal science at the University.  In response he stated that “demand for animal protein is increasing and is going to continue to increase as industries in third world countries continue to increase and the wealth of the middle class continues to increase.  While there will be niche markets for plant-based protein sources, animal protein will continue to serve our growing population as the preferred source of high-quality protein for human consumption.  A ruminant’s key role in the ecosystem is its ability to degrade the world’s most abundant carbohydrate source, cellulose, into a highly palatable and high-quality protein for humans.”

Krehbiel is no stranger to animal agriculture. His research interests include understanding relationships involving ruminal fermentation, gastrointestinal tract metabolism, and net nutrient flux to improve animal health, growth, feed efficiency and end-product quality of beef cattle. He also has interest in determining the impacts of growth technologies used in beef cattle production on sustainability.

Currently the Impossible Foods product is only available at select restaurants in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco. The plant-based burgers are 100 percent vegan and include wheat protein, which means they are not gluten free. The full ingredient list includes: Water, Textured Wheat Protein, Coconut Oil, Potato Protein, Natural Flavors, 2% or less of: Leghemoglobin (soy), Yeast Extract, Salt, Soy Protein Isolate, Konjac Gum, Xanthan Gum, Thiamin (Vitamin B1), Zinc, Niacin, Vitamin B6, Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Vitamin B12.

Taken directly from  is the nutrition facts label for the Impossible Foods plant-based burger.

Natalie Jones
Student Reporter
IANR Media