Rutgers had a hand in making ‘Impossible burger’ possible
PISCATAWAY — You've almost certainly heard of Impossible Foods, and you may have even tried their burgers at White Castle or Burger King. But you probably didn't know how big of a role New Jersey played in this company breaking onto the national scene.
The story began around four years ago, when the two chefs at the forefront of Impossible approached the Rutgers Food Innovation Center with a concept. They'd been able to isolate a fermented yeast extract called heme that, when applied to plant-based foods, gave those foods a "bloody" juiciness similar to succulent, cooked beef.
The chefs' problem, said Nolan Lewin, director of the Innovation Center's Piscataway location (there are also facilities in Bordentown, Bridgeton, and New Brunswick), was that they were who they were: chefs, not manufacturers.
But they told the Innovation Center what their end goal was, and then it was up to Rutgers to quite literally deliver the goods.
"They didn't start out as a big company. They started out as a small, two-person, two chefs who had an idea, and it caught on. It was a great concept," Lewin said.
What wound up happening is that Impossible launched its food production service out of the Bridgeton facility, which like its companions is an FDA- and USDA-certified food manufacturing plant. In turn, Rutgers then helped the company with engineering at its California headquarters.
The two parties' missions dovetailed perfectly: Impossible sought to develop a plant-based burger that would appeal to everyone, not just vegans and vegetarians, and the Innovation Center aims to incubate, accelerate, and scale up businesses both within New Jersey and on a regional basis.
"In the industry, we call it being disruptive, where they can come in and turn things around a little bit," Lewin said "And we deal with companies like that, or who want to be like that, all the time."
To that end, Lewin wouldn't say what "next big things" Rutgers has in development right now, but hinted that not every project deals directly with a company known for food.
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