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The ingredient, made from soybean roots and genetically engineered yeast, goes into vegetarian Impossible Burgers, which are available in a growing number of restaurants — even fast-food stalwart White Castle.
It contains heme (pronounced HEEM), a key part of red meat and a source of iron, which humans can’t live without. Think of Brown’s discovery as plant-based blood. Brown, 63, says it makes the Impossible Burger sizzle, smell and taste like real red meat.
The resemblance to beef is the Impossible Burger’s claim to fame. It may also be its bane. Even though Impossible Foods is compliant with all regulations, the company is having the U.S. Food and Drug Administration review the product’s safety in the interest of transparency. So far, the FDA says the company hasn’t met the mark. The FDA said the plant-based heme is so new there needed to be more evidence before it will give its blessing. Impossible Foods says it tried again and is waiting for the FDA’s response.
“This is a product that has great potential for society,” said Tom Neltner, chemicals policy director for the Environmental Defense Fund. “We have to get the science right.”
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