Fake meat: a fad or here to stay?

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Impossible Burger with fries.

When Beyond Meat first hit the market in 2014, few thought it would be a success. But Del Taco sold more than 2 million Beyond Meat tacos in two months. And when Burger King released the Impossible Whopper at a few locations, and it was such an overwhelming hit that it's now available at all U.S. and overseas locations. 

Vox writer Kelsey Piper says that Burger King is doing a promotion where someone could order a burger, and there'd be a 50% chance it'd be an Impossible Burger and a 50% chance it'd be a real meat burger. "That's how confident they are that consumers can't tell the difference," Piper says. 

While many people have tied the rise of plant-based meat to millennials' concerns about climate change and buying sustainably, the interest is more widespread, and companies are trying to capture meat eaters from all walks of life, Piper notes. 

What are these alt-meat products made of, and why do they taste like meat? 

Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods make all their products from plants, and they taste almost exactly like beef. "We're not at the state of imitating a high quality steak yet. But for a major thing that people consume in tacos, in burgers, on sandwiches -- these plant-based alternatives taste a lot like the real thing," Piper says. 

She points out that these companies aren't targeting vegetarians either. They're making a product for people who eat meat now, but might have concerns with sustainability/climate change, health, and antibiotic resistance. And so, they would opt for a plant-based product that tastes just as satisfying if given the choice. 

Piper says scientists have tracked and tested thousands of different plants to figure out what components achieve the right flavor profile, and Impossible Foods gets their meaty flavor from yeast that contains soy, while Beyond Meat does not use yeast. 

What about lab-grown meat? 

Lab-grown meat has also been getting attention. Piper says the process is about taking cells from a cow or other animal, and putting them in a solution in a factory, where they can grow on their own.  

"This obviously would be pretty great if we can pull it off. You could make whatever kind of meat products you wanted at lower environmental footprint… But it's a technical challenge that we haven't solved all the parts of it yet, and we haven't gotten it to an affordable price point yet. You can't buy that in stores yet," Piper explains. 

So it's unclear how soon consumers could try lab-grown meat. "There's still a lot of inventing and refining that needs to happen to get those products to us," Piper says.

--Written by Amy Ta, produced by Adriana Cargill