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Soy Protein in Impossible Meat vs. Beef Burgers

I will say it at the beginning of this article–I LIKE MEAT–e.g. beef, pork, chicken–and I believe I always will. I grew up on a farm in West Tenn., and meat was a staple of my everyday diet. In fact, we even processed our own beef, pork, and chicken on the farm. I didn’t know what “store” sausage, ham, chicken, or beef looked or tasted like compared to our farm-raised and -processed meats.

All of the above being said, the remainder of this article will deal with the recently developed “Impossible” beef that is showing up in some of the fast food establishments and grocery store meat counters. And I am only going to deal with Impossible meat substitute since it is the one that uses a soy product in its makeup. I assume the reason for this is obvious since I am writing under the auspices of the Miss. Soybean Promotion Board, and want to do everything possible to promote/enhance the livelihood of Miss. Soybean Producers.

Now back to “Impossible Meats”, a product from “Impossible Foods”. The following narrative contains direct quotes from the linked articles that precede them, and each of the cited articles contains an extensive reference list of articles with data to support the statements contained in each of the cited articles. Each of the excerpted quotes deals with some aspect of this plant-based product being substituted for beef, and the expected outcomes from such substitution.

Growth Potential for Soy in Hybrid Meats, June 11, 2019, Dr. Mark Messina, Soy Nutrition Institute

“The movement toward plant-based diets suggests that soy consumption will grow, despite increasing competition.... Impossible Foods, Nestle, and ABP (UK) have introduced plant burgers containing soy protein.”

“...Greater soy consumption isn’t going to be the result of increasing the number of consumers who completely shun meat. It will be because of the movement toward ‘flexitarian’ eating, but perhaps not in the way one might think....”

“Flexitarianism is a portmanteau of ‘flexible’ and ‘vegetarian’, referring to an individual who follows a primarily (but not strictly) vegetarian diet, occasionally eating meat or fish. The defining element of flexitarian eating is the reduction in meat intake.”

“...There is the potential for soy protein to be combined with meat as a means of reducing meat intake while still maintaining the attributes of meat many consumers crave.”

“Soy protein is already widely added to meat as an extender, but also for functional purposes, such as increasing moisture retention. Given this background, and that the quality of soy protein is similar to the quality of meat protein, if hybrid meats do in fact take off, it would seem that soy protein is poised to benefit.”

“Soy Protein Makes a Comeback”, Oct. 2, 2019, Virginia Messina, Soy Nutrition Institute

“For 30 years, soy protein has been recognized as the only plant protein comparable in quality to animal protein.”

“With its small carbon footprint, excellent protein quality, and its contribution to flavor and function in meatless products, soy protein is finding favor with some innovative companies developing the next generation of plant-based protein products.”

“What is the Impossible Burger, and Is It Healthy”, May 5, 2020, Jillian Kubala, Healthline

“The Impossible Burger is a plant-based alternative to traditional meat-based burgers. It’s said to mimic the flavor, aroma, and texture of beef.”

“The Impossible Burger was created by Impossible Foods.....”

“The Impossible Burger uses soy protein instead of wheat protein, making it gluten-free.”

“Heme, or soy leghemoglobin, is the ingredient said to set the Impossible Burger apart from other plant-based burgers. It adds to the flavor and color of the burger and makes it ‘bleed’ like a beef burger does when cut.”

“Unlike the heme found in beef, the heme in the Impossible Burger is genetically engineered by adding soy protein to genetically engineered yeast.”

“Impossible Burgers are significantly lower in protein than beef-based burgers (19 g vs. 29 g), yet they contain more fiber (3 g vs. 0 g).” (LGH note: See chart in this article to find a nutritional comparison between the Impossible Burger and a beef-based burger).

“What really sets the Impossible Burger apart from other vegan and vegetarian foods enriched with iron is that it provides heme iron, which is better absorbed by the human body than the non-heme iron from plant foods.”

“Moreover, soy leghemoglobin has been shown to have an equivalent bioavailability to the iron found in meat, making it a potentially important source of highly absorbable iron for those who don’t consume animal products.”

“The Impossible Burger website claims that producing this plant-based burger uses roughly 75% less water, generates 87% fewer greenhouse gases, and requires 95% less land than producing conventional ground beef from cows.”

“Soy Protein Featured in Impossible Burger”, June 11, 2019, Dr. Mark Messina, Soy Nutrition Institute

“The current version (2.0) of the Impossible Burger replaced wheat in the recipe with soy protein concentrate (SPC). The company notes that as a result of this change, the burger is tastier, holds up better, and provides higher quality protein.”

“...The protein provided by SPC is approximately 97% digestible.”

“The 19 g of protein provided by the Impossible Burger is comparable to the amount of protein in a beef burger. It makes quite a significant contribution to meeting the protein RDA, which for a man is about 60 g or so.”

“...For many Americans who desire the taste of meat, and the health benefits and environmental advantages of plant protein, the Impossible Burger is an excellent option.”

“These are the 21 Ingredients that make an Impossible Burger look and taste like meat”, May 31, 2019, Irene Jiang, Business Insider

“Impossible Foods uses genetic engineering to make ingredients that are essential to the taste and texture of its plant-based meat substitute: soy leghemoglobin (also known as heme) and soy protein. Soy protein replaced wheat protein as the main base for Impossible’s second recipe, while soy leghemoglobin is responsible for making the patty taste like meat.”

“While some have criticized Impossible Foods for its use of genetic engineering, the Food and Drug Administration deemed heme safe to eat in 2018.”

“Here’s how the footprint of the plant-based Impossible Burger compares to beef”, Mar. 20, 2019, Adele Peters, Fast Company

“The newest version of the Impossible Burger–the plant-based meat that uses food science to replicate the taste and feel of beef–has a carbon footprint 89% smaller than a burger made from a cow.”

“A new analysis found that the burger also uses 87% less water than beef, uses 96% less land, and cuts water contamination by 92%.”

“Impossible Burger vs. beef: Which is better for the environment”, Oct. 28, 2019, Amanda Capritto, CNET

“Fake meat vs. real meat: Which one is better for the environment? There’s currently no black-and-white answer to this question, and based on research articles and interviews with experts, it seems like there might not be a real answer for a while. According to Dr. Jareer Abu-Ali, ...’the majority of research seems to support that eating a plant-based diet is better if you’re looking at things from an environmental standpoint, and that maintaining a plant-based diet is more sustainable as the population continues to grow. If we maintain the (current) usage of meat and dairy, every time we need to feed more people with meat and dairy, we need to utilize a lot more agricultural land than if we were to feed them plants, which means more deforestation and more greenhouse gases and more destruction. The problem continues to grow as the population grows’.” (LGH note: Click here for an article that presents information about the declining agricultural land base in the U.S.)

“Impossible Burger boasts much smaller carbon footprint than beef”, Mar. 22, 2019, Cathy Siegner, FoodDive

“Impossible Foods has a lot to gain by publicizing this life cycle assessment because it underscores the relative sustainability details of plant-based products vs. those from traditional animal-based agriculture.” (LGH note: Referring to statistics/data in Adele Peters’ article above).

“Shoppers looking for protein products taking less land and water to produce are likely to support manufacturers who follow through when it comes to sustainability.”

“Quantifying plant-based sustainability claims could provide marketing and financial advantages for companies such as Impossible Foods....”

“How the Impossible Burger is changing the debate over GMO foods”, Feb. 14, 2020, Sully Barrett, CNBC

“One difference is Impossible Food’s use of GMO technology for the key ingredient heme, a molecule that makes the Impossible Burger ‘bleed’. The genetically engineered protein has been deemed safe by the FDA.”

“In addition to GMO soy protein, one of Impossible Foods’ key ingredients is heme, a molecule the company says makes its burger ‘bleed’ and taste like real meat. While the company initially extracted it from the root nodules of non-GMO soybean plants, it needed a more efficient method to meet high consumer demand. Enter soy leghemoglobin, short for legume hemoglobin, a genetically engineered protein made by splicing soybean DNA into yeast, which is then fermented. The new process allowed the company to ramp up production without destroying millions of soybean plants.”

“Impossible Foods reports that its manufacturing process causes significantly less damage to the environment than beef production, requiring 87% less water, 96% less land, and 80% less herbicide, as well as releasing 89% fewer greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.”

(LGH note: Check out this article for more in-depth analysis of the GMO debate as it affects Impossible Foods’ meat substitute products).

“Soy Protein Vs. Meat Protein”, Feb. 21, 2019, Gord Kerr,

“Your body has the ability to make 11 amino acids. These are known as nonessential. The

remaining nine are known as essential amino acids because your body needs to acquire them from the food you eat. The essential amino acids are: methionine, phenylalanine, histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, threonine, tryptophan and valine.”

“Some foods contain all nine of the essential amino acids–they’re considered complete proteins. Animal products such as meat, chicken, and poultry are complete proteins.”

“Although many plant proteins don’t contain all of the essential amino acids, soy products are one of the richest sources of proteins in the plant kingdom. Soy contains all of the nine essential amino acids and is considered a complete protein.”

“Meat protein benefits include supplying some nutrients that 1) may be lacking in soy and plant food (vitamins B12 and D), or 2) are more easily absorbed and used by the human body (e..g. Iron and Zinc).”

“Getting your protein from soy foods can provide some vitamins and micronutrients that meat doesn’t offer. These include: 1) Vitamin C–abundant in many plant foods, including soy, but not found in useful amounts in animal foods; 2) Isoflavones–found only in plants–soybean and soy products are the richest and most concentrated source of these antioxidants available; 3) Dietary fiber–contained in abundance in soy foods, but meat does not provide a significant amount.”

“Plants do not contain cholesterol, but meat’s high cholesterol content may have some health risks.”

(LGH note: Check out this article for in-depth analyses of the merits/demerits of soy protein vs. meat protein).


Overall, the above quotes from the cited references indicate that Impossible Meat is an acceptable substitute for beef. However, the above citations/quotes provide no data to show how the Impossible Meat products will benefit soybean farmers–i.e., there are no cited data to show just how many bushels of U.S. soybeans will potentially be used in these products. Also, if the soybeans used in the production of these products merely substitute for those that would have been used for producing meat, then there will be no added benefit to U.S. soybean producers; however, the perceived environmental benefits would still accrue.

Thus, it appears that the only benefit to soybean producers will have to come from the consumption of these soy-based meat products by those who are already shunning meat in their diets; this should result in a net gain in use and consumption of soybean products. Again, there is no indication of how many U.S. soybean bushels this will use, or if this new product will result in a net gain in soybean consumption. Hopefully, those data will soon be forthcoming from a reputable source.

Composed by Larry G. Heatherly, June 2020,