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Impossible’s ‘Alternative Pork’ Is Just the Latest Entry in the Fake Meat Boom

Are we in a fake meat bubble?

Latest Consumer Technology Products On Display At Annual CES In Las Vegas Photo by David Becker/Getty Images

Fans of meat alternatives will soon have even more options, two Bay Area food tech companies say. Over in Berkeley, a company called Air Protein claims that it’s creating just that, while Redwood City’s Impossible Foods made global headlines Monday when it announced that it had successfully launched a faux pork product.

Impossible CEO Pat Brown first brought up the company’s move into faux swine during a November Bloomberg chat at Shanghai’s China International Import Expo. In addition to providing a possible BLT to those who eschew flesh, the company says that simulated sow could help Impossible crack the market in China, where 60 percent of the average resident’s daily meat consumption is pork. According to Brown, Impossible had already created “very good prototypes” of pretend pork, and the company just needed to figure out how to scale it.

Three months later, it looks like that problem has been solved: On Monday, Impossible unveiled its pork substitute at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, announcing as it did that it will be formulated into a product called Impossible Sausage, and will both be available at 139 Burger King restaurants later this month.

The soy-based “meat,” which was available in multiple preparations at the Vegas event, “was a little spongy,” the Verge’s Elizabeth Lopatto says. (She tried items including an Impossible pork banh mi, Impossible pork char siu buns, Impossible pork dan dan noodles, Impossible pork katsu, and Impossible pork sweet, sour, and numbing meatballs.) Another taster Lopatto called on said “the texture was not quite right, but the taste was basically accurate.” Both noted that the product was very salty, something that many other Impossible consumers — including this one — have also noted.

The obvious question, of course, is, “will there be Impossible Bacon?” Not yet, Brown tells CNet. “We’ve already played around with” a bacon formulation, he says, but it’s not quite there yet. “We’re not going to release a bacon product until we feel like anyone who is the most hardcore bacon worshiper thinks it’s awesomely delicious. But we’re definitely on track,” he says. “It’s going to be an epic moment when we serve the first kosher bacon cheeseburger.”

While Impossible wrestles with bacon, another local company hopes to pull protein from the air. Berkeley-based Air Protein announced last November that it has created a protein power using carbon dioxide, oxygen, and nitrogen (all elements found in the air) that is fermented and fortified with vitamins including B12 — a claim that seemed preposterous enough that some assumed that its press release on the matter was a prank.

But it’s not as wild as it sounds, the nonprofit Good Food Institute’s Liz Specht, tells the SF Chronicle. Instead, it’s the result of a process called microbial fermentation. Air Protein CEO Lisa Dyson compares its so-called “probiotic production process” to the chemical change that occurs within yogurt or beer. Right now, the company’s end product is a powder with a “neutral” taste that can be used to make mock meats like beef or chicken, as well as fortify pastas or shakes. Unlike Impossible’s offerings, it can’t be found at a restaurant or grocery store quite yet — but as of December, Dyson told Food Dive that she expected Air Protein products to launch some time this year.

As companies like Impossible and Air Protein race to bring their next product to consumers, one should remember that San Francisco-based Just is breathing down both companies’ necks. While its current marquee offering is a plant-based egg product, the company is currently working through USDA and FDA regulatory processes to bring its cultured meat — that is, meat grown from animal cells in a lab — to market, CNet reported in March. What a world, where soon non-animal eaters will be able to choose between facon, air-based pig power, or a never-born Babe.

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