Heme is the iron-rich compound found in meat that provides a deep color and a rich, umami flavor. The reason the Impossible Burger tastes so real is due to the addition of the company’s proprietary plant-based heme.
“How outlandish!” you must be thinking. Agreed; what business does an extinct mammal have ending up on a burger in 2022?
Let’s dive into the science. Paleo uses precision fermentation technology to produce bioidentical, animal-free heme proteins that recreate the taste and smell of meat. The fermentation process is similar to brewing beer or making cheese where yeasts are grown in bioreactors. Instead, the company teaches the microorganisms, the yeast cells, how to produce large quantities of heme proteins.
The company has developed six varieties of vegan heme so far, including beef, tuna, sheep, chicken, pork, and woolly mammoth. The woolly mammoth heme is clearly the most confusing option here – to create it, the company analyzed the DNA of woolly mammoths to figure out how to reconstruct heme.
This week, Paleo’s patents were approved. By 2023, the company plans on selling its heme to food manufacturers.