Why Burger King's Impossible Whopper and breakfast sandwich aren't vegetarian

The plant-based burger was first released nationwide last summer.
/ Source: TODAY

Burger King made headlines last August with the debut of its Impossible Whopper, a burger made with a plant-based, protein-filled patty. This week, the chain unveiled the next iteration of its Impossible offerings with a new breakfast sandwich: the Impossible Croissan’wich.

When Burger King's original Impossible Whopper hit stores nationwide, many were upset that even though the veggie burger isn't made with any meat (or animal byproducts), the burger itself isn't 100% vegetarian when ordered with no modifications.

The Impossible Whopper uses a plant-protein based burger patty from food technology company Impossible. It's made with soy protein, potato protein, coconut oil, sunflower oil, salt, yeast and a variety of emulsifying agents. Getty Images stock

Last summer, Burger King made it clear that the only way in which its new Whopper was different from the traditional one was the Impossible patty. Since vegans traditionally avoid eggs, the Impossible Whopper was quickly dismissed as a legitimate vegan fast-food alternative since the burger is topped with mayonnaise.

However, many vegetarians consume animals products like cheese and dairy, so a little mayo was deemed OK. However, unless you ask for the Impossible Whopper in a specific way, it might not meet one's definition of true vegetarian fare.

While the burger itself contains no meat, Burger King acknowledged that the Impossible patties are flame-grilled on the same broiler as its chicken and beef products. This means the meatless burger will likely come into contact with bits of meat and poultry as it cooks.

Many people were less than thrilled that the chain's highly publicized sandwich wasn't really living up to its hype as a great option for vegetarians.

However, with the release of the new breakfast sandwich (which includes a vegetarian sausage patty), many are applauding the chain for taking a step in what they see as the right direction by expanding the menu.

While Burger King may not be targeting strict vegans and vegetarians with its relatively new Impossible offerings, there are still plenty of people opting to get more of their protein from sources beyond meat for ethical and sustainable reasons.

The move to trial meatless options mirrors other fast-food restaurants, too. Chick-fil-A said that it's looking to add more meatless items to its menu, and McDonald's has tested both a vegan burger and vegan McNuggets in Europe.

But is a veggie burger really a healthier meal?

The Impossible Whopper has roughly the same number of calories as a traditional Whopper (they both have similar amounts of fat and protein, as well). But the Impossible Whopper has 9 more grams of carbs; it also has more sodium than its meatier counterpart.

Bonnie Taub-Dix, a registered dietician, creator of BetterThanDieting.com and author of "Read It Before You Eat It:Taking You From Label to Table," told TODAY Food that the Impossible items being sold by Burger King definitely do not fall into the "health food category" due to the number of calories and amount of saturated fat it contains.

"Having the occasional plant-based burger is fine for anyone, but don’t kid yourself into thinking that it’s any better for you than a meat-based burger," Taub-Dix said. "If you’re looking to save calories and fat, though, perhaps go for a burger smaller than a Whopper, and don’t order your plant-based burger with extra cheese."

However, there are plenty of plant-based patties (they might not necessarily look or taste like beef) on the market that are a great way to enjoy veggies and get some protein. Many of these items are available in the freezer aisle at your local health food store. Always look at the product's label and examine its macro nutrients, as well as sodium and saturated fat content, Taub-Dix advised.

Back in August, the TODAY anchors gave the Impossible Whopper a thumbs up (Sheinelle Jones even called it "delightful!).

Jessica Applegren, vice president of communications at Impossible Foods, told TODAY that company sales surged 2019. According to Applegren, some restaurants that carried Impossible products, like Red Robin, ran out of the plant-based patty soon after they started offering it.

Vegetarian burger fans weren't happy then, either.

Shortage issues aside, Impossible products are currently on the menu at about 10,000 restaurants worldwide.

"Growth has come from every sales category in which the company does business. Independent restaurants, large restaurant chains, such as White Castle, Cheesecake Factory and Qdoba, and non-commercial outlets such as theme parks, museums, stadiums and college campuses," Applegren said.

Late last summer, Impossible Foods also received the approval to sell its products in grocery stores. Various Impossible products (including its signature burger patty) are now available at food retailers in 37 states.

For vegetarians who want to stick to a strict meat-free regimen, a spokesperson for Burger King confirmed to TODAY that guests ordering the Impossible burger must ask for the patty to be cooked in the oven, instead of being grilled alongside other meat items, when ordering their meal.