Burger King has announced that it is introducing a vegetarian Whopper on its menu this week.
According to Vox, Burger King will test the new meatless option at 59 restaurants in the St. Louis area. If it proves popular, the "Impossible Whopper" will become available in all 7,200 United States Burger King branches.
Burger King is the latest fast food chain to add a vegetarian burger, following in the footsteps of Carl's Jr. restaurants that added a vegetarian burger using Beyond Meat (a company based out of Los Angeles that offers burgers made of pea protein and beet juice), in January and the "Impossible Slider" added by White Castle last year.
In a seemingly counterintuitive move, many producers in the meat industry, such as Tyson Foods, have increased investment in meat alternatives. Consumers are increasingly looking for meat alternatives, denouncing the high environmental costs of industrial meat production.
Pat Brown, a former Stanford University professor, founded Impossible Foods, the maker of the new burger, in 2011. Rowan Jacobsen tracked Brown's strenuous and biochemically challenging development of the Impossible burger in a 2016 article for Pacific Standard:
In 2009, Brown decided to devote an 18-month sabbatical to eliminating industrial meat production, which he determined at the time to be the world's largest environmental problem. A staggering one-third of the land on Earth is used to raise livestock and their food. The Midwest is a giant feed trough. Reducing meat consumption, Brown figured, would free up vast amounts of land and water, would greatly mitigate climate change, would alleviate the suffering of billions of animals, would eliminate mountains of chemical fertilizer, and would make people healthier. It seemed like a no-brainer.
Brown's goal was to create an eco-conscious vegetarian burger that remained indistinguishable in taste from beef burgers. To do this, Impossible Foods developed a strain of yeast that makes plant blood, or heme, to give the Impossible burger a more beefy taste and smell.
After the final development of heme to give the burger a true meaty taste, researchers at Impossible Foods sought to replicate the other aspects of beef burgers such as texture. Following countless iterations, the research team landed on their final version: the Loon burger.
The Loon burger looked, smelled, and tasted like a beef-based burger. And, for Jacobsen, the unsustainability of beef made the switch to the Impossible burger an easy one. However, to make the vegetarian burger appealing for the average American consumer, he concluded that the Impossible burger needed a cheap, competitive market price.
While the environmental costs of Burger King's new Impossible Whopper are comparatively low, it will still cost about a dollar more than its meat-based competitors.