Could Impossible Fish follow the Impossible Burger?
- Impossible Foods, the startup based in Redwood City, California that introduced the "bloody" plant-based hamburger last year to great fanfare, is signaling that it plans to use the same technology to develop other non-animal protein.
- “We are looking at replacing all products derived from animals and fish is on the list, although somewhat far out,” said company spokeswoman Jessica Appelgren, according to Undercurrent News. She added that there are no further details available at this time on a possible plant-based "fish" product.
- Company founder and CEO Pat Brown, a biochemist, has patented the technology extracting heme — an iron-containing molecule — from soybeans to make the product closely resembling ground beef.
It's not easy to replicate animal protein with plant-sourced materials, but somehow the Impossible Burger won over many skeptics when its "beef" patty debuted in limited U.S. markets last year. The company spent a lot of time and money telling — and showing — how the product mimics a real beef hamburger patty down to the last detail, including "bleeding" while it cooks.
Since then, the Impossible Burger has become available at a growing number of upscale restaurants around the country, and the company intends to expand into the retail marketplace over the next few years as it creates greater manufacturing efficiencies. It has a new plant in Oakland, California where it can produce one million pounds of its plant-based “ground beef” every month.
The company's main competitor is Beyond Meat's plant-based Beyond Burger, which is available at hundreds of Whole Foods and Safeway locations and is in the process of being distributed to Kroger's outlets — Fred Meyer, King Soopers, Kroger and Ralphs.
Nothing seems completely impossible for Impossible Foods, however, and the company still has cash to make more of its ideas reality. It has received $257 million in funding so far, including $75 million in July from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, investor (and Sun Microsystems co-founder) Vinod Khosla, Hong Kong venture capital firm Horizons Ventures, Facebook founder Dustin Moskovitz and Singapore investment firm Temasek Holdings.
Turning out a believable faux fish product is another matter. Brown has said that bluefin tuna also contains heme, so it's conceivable he would look in that direction for his first "fish" product. Bluefin tuna is in great demand for the high-end sushi market, and at least one of the three species — the Atlantic bluefin— is considered threatened due to overfishing.
At a press briefing last week, Brown said his company's goal is to completely replace animals as a food production technology by 2035. “We are working on producing all foods that we get from animals," he said.
Imitation crab meat — also known as "surimi" or "krab" — consists of processed seafood made of starch and finely pulverized white fish. It is very adaptable to various products such as soup, fish balls, crab sticks and lobster, but the different taste and texture make it easy to distinguish from the real thing.
It's hard to tell what the market might be for plant-based "fish," but Impossible Foods may try to find out. They will have to devise a believable look, feel, texture and taste, and the product will also need to be adaptable to various uses. The only thing it won't have to do is swim.