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Impossible Foods questionable ingredient heme gets FDA green light



impossible foods plant based burger 6
The Impossible


  • The Impossible Burger is a plant-based patty made by
    Silicon Valley startup Impossible
    with backing from Bill Gates.
  • Some advocates said the burger was unsafe because of a

    key ingredient called heme
    , which the FDA initially said it
    couldn’t recognize as safe without further research.
  • On Monday, the FDA gave Impossible Foods the official
    green light that heme is safe to eat.

The magic ingredient that
made Silicon Valley’s favorite veggie burger “bleed”
but also

spooked a handful of advocates and journalists
has officially
been deemed safe by federal regulators.

On Monday, the Food and Drug Administration said the key nutrient
in Impossible Foods’ “bleeding” veggie burger recipe is safe to
eat, or in official parlance, “generally recognized as safe”
(GRAS). That nutrient is heme, an iron-rich ingredient that’s
found naturally in the bodies of all living things. It’s also
what gives the Impossible Burger its deep, blood-red color when

The FDA nod is a big win for Impossible Foods, the San
Francisco-based startup behind the burger.

After receiving funding from Bill Gates, inking deals with major
fast-food chains like
White Castle
, and even making its burgers available on
Air New Zealand flights, the company had literally been flying
high. But it hit a snag last summer when, after voluntarily
sending data on behalf of its burger to the FDA, the agency
responded with a red flag: they said the paperwork wasn’t
sufficient to “establish the safety”
of heme.

In the meantime, everyone from journalists to environmental
glommed onto the controversy
, taking issue not only with the
heme in the Impossible Burger but also the fact that it was made
genetically engineered ingredients
, or GMOs.

Taken aback by the FDA’s response, Impossible Foods came back to
the agency with more research detailing heme’s safety. On Monday,
the agency essentially reversed its original statement and
concluded that heme — and the Impossible Burger — were safe to

Heme, the essential nutrient you’ve never heard of

impossible foods burger 0342Melia Robinson/Business

Although the scientists at Impossible Foods had already done
extensive testing on heme, they did not get the official nod from
the FDA until Monday.

“We are the farthest thing from surprised,” Pat Brown, Impossible
Foods’ CEO, told Business Insider.

Although today’s veggie burgers can be described with a handful
of delicious-sounding adjectives, “meaty” wasn’t really one of
them until Impossible Foods came
along. The meat-like flavor in the Impossible Burger can largely
be attributed to heme, an essential nutrient in many proteins
that is found in just about every living thing on Earth.

In our bodies, heme is found tucked inside of a molecule in our
blood called hemoglobin. Heme is also found in smaller
concentrations in some plants including soy, which is where the
Impossible Burger’s heme is from. By genetically modifying yeast,
Impossible Foods turns the organisms into tiny heme factories
that churn out enough of the ingredient to give the burgers their
meaty flavor.

Brown said the FDA’s green light underlines what he and the rest
of the Impossible Foods team already knew — that heme and the
Impossible Burger are safe to eat.

“We would have been kicking ourself in the foot if we hadn’t
already done the research and proven that this was safe,” Brown
said. “But it’s great news.”

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