What is in Impossible Beef? An In-Depth Look at the Plant-Based Meat

Impossible beef has taken the world by storm as a plant-based alternative to traditional ground beef. With its meaty flavor and texture when cooked, it appeals to vegetarians and flexitarians alike. But what exactly is in this celebrity veggie burger that mimics ground beef so well? Let’s take an in-depth look at the ingredients that make up impossible beef.

The Main Protein Source

The key protein in impossible beef comes from soy. Specifically, it contains soy protein concentrate, which is made by removing fat and carbohydrates from defatted soybean meal. This leaves a high concentration of protein along with fiber and micronutrients.

The soy protein provides the bulk of the “meaty” chew and texture when impossible beef is cooked. Soy is a common protein source used in meat alternatives due to its versatility. It provides both the nutritional and textural qualities needed to mimic ground meat.

The “Meaty” Heme

In addition to soy protein, impossible beef contains an ingredient called heme which gives it the uniquely meaty, bloody flavor. Heme is an iron-containing molecule that occurs naturally in animal muscle and blood. It is what makes meat taste like meat.

The impossible beef gets its heme from genetically engineered yeast that produces a soy-derived heme called soy leghemoglobin. This adds intense meaty umami flavor and aroma to make the impossible beef remarkably similar to real beef.

Oils for Cooking and Fat Content

To allow impossible beef to cook, brown, and have a fatty mouthfeel like real ground beef, it contains added oils. The main oils used are:

  • Coconut oil – Provides saturated fat for rich texture
  • Sunflower oil – Adds monounsaturated fats for frying and sauteing

These plant-based oils ensure the impossible beef sizzles in the pan and aromatizes like beef fat when cooked. They also replicate the juiciness and richness from fat in real beef.

Binders and Emulsifiers

Impossible beef uses a few binders and emulsifiers to give it a stable texture that holds together like beef:

  • Methylcellulose – A gel and emulsifier made from cellulose
  • Food starch – Thickens and binds ingredients together
  • Gums – Help emulsify fats and bind water

These ingredients allow impossible beef to be molded into patties or meatballs and retain moisture through cooking to mimic ground meat.


To create a product more nutritionally similar to beef, impossible beef is fortified with some key micronutrients, including:

  • Vitamin B12 – Important for nerve and blood health
  • Zinc – Supports immune function and metabolism
  • Vitamin B6 – Helps with protein metabolism
  • Thiamine (B1) – Essential for turning nutrients into energy
  • Niacin – Supports DNA and energy production

Fortifying with B-vitamins brings the impossible beef closer to the nutritional profile of animal meat.

Extracts for Flavor

Natural flavor extracts are used to replicate the complex flavors of real beef:

  • Yeast extract – Provides savory, meaty umami flavor
  • Smoke flavor – Emulates the taste of grilled beef
  • Paprika and fumaric acid – Imparts slightly bloody, irony flavor
  • Spices and seasonings – Balance of flavors like in beef

Food Colors

Beet juice and annatto extract are added strictly as coloring agents to achieve the red-pink raw beef color. Without colorants, the impossible beef would look grayish.

Final Thoughts on Ingredients

When you break it down, impossible beef gets its meat-like qualities from a strategic blend of proteins, fats, emulsifiers, nutrients, and flavors derived from plants. Heme gives it uniquely meaty flavor, while soy protein has the protein content and textural qualities of ground beef. Oils, binders, and emulsifiers replicated the fat and juiciness of beef. And micronutrients, extracts, and beet color round out the nutritional profile and beef-like appearance.

While it takes over a dozen ingredients to mimic beef, Impossible beef provides an impressively meaty experience from 100% plants. It allows vegetarians, vegans, and flexitarians the enjoyment and satiating qualities of beef without animal products. With its thorough R&D to recreate the sensory experience of beef from plants, impossible beef fills a unique niche in the plant-based meat arena.

How the Ingredients Come Together in Impossible Beef

Impossible beef seems magical in how plant ingredients can imitate ground beef, but there is complex science behind that meaty magic. Here is an overview of how impossible beef is made:

  • Protein extraction – Soy protein, potato protein, and other proteins are extracted from the source plants. This isolates the protein portions.

  • Heme production – Heme is produced through yeast fermentation to obtain the soy leghemoglobin.

  • Fat emulsification – Plant oils are blended with emulsifiers and gums to create a stable simulated beef fat.

  • Mixing – In a special mixer, the isolated proteins, fats, seasonings, binders, nutrients, and heme are all combined and homogenized.

  • Heating and shaping – The mixture is heated, set into the appropriate meat texture, shaped into patties or crumbles, and frozen.

While it may seem like lab-created frankenfood, impossible beef is made entirely from natural plant ingredients without any artificial chemicals. The unique textures, flavors, and appearance are achieved through technical precision with real foods.

Nutrition Profile of Impossible Beef

So what is the nutrition profile of impossible beef compared to real ground beef? Here is a breakdown:

<style>table { font-family: arial, sans-serif; border-collapse: collapse; width: 100%;}td, th { border: 1px solid #dddddd; text-align: left; padding: 8px;}tr:nth-child(even) { background-color: #dddddd;}</style><table><tr><th>Nutrient</th> <th>Per 4 oz serving</th><th>Ground Beef</th><th>Impossible Beef</th> </tr><tr><td>Calories</td><td>240</td> <td>240</td></tr><tr> <td>Fat</td><td>18g</td><td>14g</td></tr><tr><td>Saturated Fat</td><td>7g</td> <td>8g</td> </tr><tr><td>Trans Fat</td><td>1g</td><td>0g</td></tr><tr><td>Cholesterol</td> <td>80mg</td><td>0mg</td> </tr><tr><td>Sodium</td><td>75mg</td><td>390mg</td></tr><tr><td>Carbs</td><td>0g</td><td>3g</td></tr><tr> <td>Fiber</td><td>0g</td><td>3g</td></tr><tr><td>Sugar</td><td>0g</td><td>0g</td></tr><tr><td>Protein</td> <td>19g</td><td>19g</td></tr></table>

As you can see, impossible beef has a very comparable macronutrient profile to real ground beef in terms of protein, calories, and fat. It has no cholesterol since it contains no animal products.

Where it differs is in higher saturated fat, sodium, carbs, and fiber content. Impossible beef has fewer ingredients overall than processed beef patties. But the added oils, salts, and binders boost certain macronutrients.

Impossible Beef: The Pros and Cons

What are some benefits and downsides to opting for impossible beef instead of regular ground beef? Here is an overview of the pros and cons:


  • Provides satisfying beefy flavor and texture without animal products
  • Has more iron and fiber than beef
  • Is lower in total fat, calories, and cholesterol compared to beef
  • More environmentally sustainable than traditional beef production
  • Appeals to vegetarians/vegans as well as meat-eaters
  • Can be used as a direct substitute for ground beef in any recipe


  • Highly processed compared to whole food ingredients
  • Higher in saturated fat than 90% lean ground beef
  • Contains GMO ingredients
  • Significantly more expensive than regular ground beef
  • Allergies or sensitivities to soy, yeast, etc could be an issue
  • Not compatible with low FODMAP or low histamine diets

Overall, impossible beef offers an impressive plant-based alternative with some tradeoffs. It ultimately comes down to personal preference and diet.

Uses for Impossible Beef

One advantage of impossible beef is its versatility in recipes. Because it is designed to mimic ground beef, it can be used in place of ground beef in any dish. Here are some popular ways to cook with impossible beef:

  • Burgers – Form into patties and grill, pan fry, or bake. Top with all the fixings.

  • Tacos – Add to taco fillings for a meaty texture.

  • Chili – Use instead of ground beef to make a meaty vegetarian chili.

  • Lasagna – Make a meaty lasagna filling without the meat.

  • Meatballs – Form into balls to make hearty Italian meatballs subs.

  • Pasta sauce – Use as a base for zesty Bolognese or ragu sauce.

  • Casseroles – Add to dishes like shepherd’s pie for comfort food flair.

Anywhere you would use ground beef, impossible beef can stand in for an easy swap.

Where to Buy Impossible Beef

Thanks to its popularity, impossible beef is now widely available at many grocery stores and restaurants. Here are some places you can find it:

  • Grocery stores – Sold in the fresh meat department or frozen section at stores like Safeway, Kroger, Wegmans, and more.

  • Large retailers – Sold at Walmart, Target, and more national retail chains.

  • Butcher shops – Some local butcher shops now offer impossible beef.

  • Restaurants – On the menu at restaurant chains like Burger King, Red Robin, White Castle.

  • Meal delivery kits – Offered as recipes in kits from Blue Apron, HelloFresh.

  • Online – Can be ordered online directly from Impossible Foods website.

Demand for impossible beef is growing exponentially. Check around locally to find where you can pick it up!

Is Impossible Beef Healthier Than Beef?

With its realistic meat-like qualities, impossible beef seems like a potentially healthier alternative to animal beef. But is it actually better for you? Here is a rundown:


  • Higher in fiber and iron
  • No cholesterol
  • Less total fat than beef
  • No antibiotics or hormones
  • More sustainable production


  • Highly processed
  • Higher sodium
  • Not whole food ingredients
  • Contains GMO soy/yeast
  • More expensive

Impossible beef has some nutritional upsides but also negatives to weigh given its heavily processed nature. It can be an occasional red meat substitute, but incorporating more whole foods like beans, lentils, mushrooms into your diet is ideal for optimal health. Moderating processed foods and meats in general, whether real or fake, is key.

Final Takeaway on Impossible Beef Ingredients

While it may seem mystifying how plants can imitate beef, Impossible beef is the result of intentional food science and technology. By expertly extracting proteins, engineering heme, and blending fats, flavors, juices and micronutrients, it creatively approximates the taste, texture and cooking qualities of ground beef without using animals.

It provides more options for plant-based eaters or those looking to cut back on meat. But innovation doesn’t necessarily mean healthier. Real whole foods still provide the best nutrition. Nevertheless, impossible beef represents an inquisitive spirit and advancement creating plant-based meat alternatives.

Impossible Burger’s Dangerous Ingredient? (Leghemoglobin Concern) 2024


What is impossible beef made of?

Read more about our vetting process. Was this helpful? The Impossible Burger contains soy protein, heme, coconut oil, sunflower oil, and other ingredients to mimic the flavor of beef. The Impossible Burger is a plant-based alternative to traditional meat-based burgers.

Is impossible meat unhealthy?

In terms of nutrition, the Impossible Burger is a good source of protein and fiber, and is lower in saturated fat and cholesterol compared to traditional beef. However, it is higher in sodium, calories, and fat than some other plant-based burger options.

Does impossible beef have MSG?

A: We do not add MSG to the Impossible Burger, but it does contain all essential and nonessential amino acids, including glutamic acid.

Why is impossible beef so expensive?

Plant-based beef alternatives are more expensive than beef because of production costs. Even though the plant-based beef industry uses less grain to create its products than what gets used for livestock feed, the scale is much smaller. This leads to higher costs, which get passed to consumers.

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