Impossible Foods is going to every White Castle

Five months after launching a pilot program with the iconic White Castle fast food chain, Impossible Foods is taking its meatless burger substitute to every one of the company’s restaurants.

With the rollout, White Castle becomes the largest fast food chain to include the Impossible Burger on its menu and the largest customer for the purveyor of beef-like meat substitutes.

At a low, low cost of $1.99, the Impossible Slider does achieve the near impossible of bringing a processed vegan food option to consumers at a price point that everyone can afford.

The company first unveiled the Impossible Slider at 140 locations in New York, Chicago and New Jersey, and the burger is now available in 377 restaurants across 13 states.

“White Castle is teaching us how to popularize plant-based meat and become a mainstream, mass market menu item and cultural icon,” said Impossible Foods’ founder and CEO Dr. Patrick O. Brown, in a statement.

From its first appearance in David Chang’s Momofuku Nishi restaurant in 2016, the Impossible Burger is now available in 3,000 locations, including restaurants, corporate cafeterias, universities and food service locations in the U.S., Hong Kong and Macau, according to a company statement.

It has been seven years since the company raised its first $7 million investment from Khosla Ventures. Since that time Impossible Foods has managed to amass another $443 million in financing — including a convertible note from the Singaporean global investment powerhouse Temasek (which is backed by the Singaporean government) and the Chinese investment fund Sailing Capital (a state-owned investment fund backed by the Communist Party-owned Chinese financial services firm, Shanghai International Group).

The company built its first large-scale manufacturing plant in Oakland, Calif. last year and expects to add a second shift to the factory to double production.

As we wrote earlier, the heart of Impossible Burger’s technology is the heme molecule and the ability to make its vegetable matter appear as bloody as a medium-rare burger.

Heme is present in most living things and, according to Impossible Foods, it’s the molecule that gives meat its flavor. The company says that it’s the presence of the heme molecule in muscle that makes meat taste like meat. Impossible Foods engineers and ferments yeast to produce that heme protein naturally found in plants, called soy leghemoglobin.

“It’s the iron-containing molecule that carries oxygen in the blood… what makes meat red or pink… It’s essential for every living cell on earth,” says Brown. “The thing that we discovered was that pretty much the entire flavor experience of meat that distinguishes it from all other foods is due to heme. Heme transforms fatty acids into the bloody flavored odorant molecules, and when you cook meat, the protein that holds the meat at a certain temperature unfolds and lets loose.”

Brown says Impossible Foods can make fish flavors, chicken flavors and pork flavors, but is going to stick to ground beef for the foreseeable future.

The next trick for the company is to manipulate the flavor profile of its meat substitute so its burgers can win in blind taste tests against any other combination of meat patty.

“The company’s mission is to completely replace animals in the food system by 2035,” says Brown. “The only way to do it is to do a better job than any animal at producing the most nutritious, delicious, affordable and versatile foods. And it will be a very interesting proof of concept landmark when we have a burger that is — for flavor and deliciousness — the best burger on earth… that’s going to send a very important signal to the world.”