The plant-based burger company hopes to use a familiar protein for new meat alternatives.

By Tim Nelson
July 10, 2019
Karen Rankin

At this point, Impossible Foods has already done, well… the impossible. They’ve made a totally meatless burger that tastes almost indistinguishable from the real thing, getting it into grocery stores, on the menu at Burger King, and into the public consciousness at a time when we’re reevaluating the environmental impact of our food. From the sound of the company’s latest R&D efforts, Impossible is now looking towards the ocean. 

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According to reporting by the New York Times, the California-based business is exploring the viability of fishless seafood. So far, their strategy centers on recreating the flavor of fish with heme, a type of iron-containing protein that can already be found in commercially available Impossible patties. Their foray into faux fish is in its nascent stages, but the company’s 124-person R&D team was able to use heme to enrich an anchovy-flavored broth derived from plants. 

The no-fish fish project is a component of Impossible’s broader mission to provide a plant-based (or otherwise meatless) alternative to every major animal protein on the market by 2035. Concurrent with the expansion into aquatic meat, Impossible says it will be beefing up its R&D team to include 200 employees by the end of 2020. 

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While the goal of getting people to eat “beef” from greener sources is an admirable one, the quest for a quality source of fish protein that can be produced on dry land is just as urgent. The World Economic Forum estimates that 90 percent of the world’s marine fish stocks have been “fully exploited, overexploited or depleted” as of 2018. That’s alarming news given that around 3 billion people around the globe rely on either wild-caught or farmed seafood as a primary source of protein, according to the World Wildlife Foundation.

That environmental argument might not be enough for consumers, however. Fish doesn’t face the same dietary stigma that red meat does, which could explain why Impossible, Beyond, and other such burgers have caught on. Additionally, Impossible Foods won’t be first to market: Good Catch, which sells a plant-based tuna, already has shelf space in Whole Foods. 

Still, it’s notable that Impossible is expanding its mandate to address another urgent global need. There’s sure to be pushback from industry groups and communities who see commercial fishing as their lifeblood, and perhaps rightfully so. But given the current state of our food supply amid ongoing threats of catastrophic climate change, replacing the catch of the day with something created in a lab is at least worth a shot. 

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