Why Burger King's new Impossible Whopper isn't totally vegetarian

The plant-based burger is being released nationwide this week.

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/ Source: TODAY
By Lyn Mettler

Burger King is making headlines with its new Impossible Whopper, a burger made with a plant-based, protein-filled patty that's making waves across the food world as the demand for sustainably made goods rises.

Last week, Burger King announced that its new meatless option would be available nationwide starting August 8.

However, some are upset that even though the veggie burger isn't made with any meat (or animal byproducts), it turns out that the Impossible Whopper isn't 100% vegetarian.

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

When the Impossible Whopper first rolled out in select test markets earlier this year, 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 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. But it turns out that unless you ask for the Impossible Whopper in a specific way, it might not meet your definition of true vegetarian fare.

While the burger itself contains no meat, Burger King acknowledges 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 are less than thrilled that the new Whopper isn't really living up to its hype as a great option for vegetarians.

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

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, and it 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 type of burger being sold by Burger King definitely doesn't 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 some 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.

While the TODAY anchors gave the Impossible Whopper a thumbs up (Sheinelle Jones even called it "delightful!), reviews on social media have been mixed.

Jessica Applegren, vice president of communications for Impossible Foods (the manufacturer of the Impossible product Burger King is using), told TODAY that company sales have recently surged. According to Applegren, some restaurants that carry Impossible products, like Red Robin, ran out of the burger for a short time earlier this summer.

Vegetarian burger fans weren't happy then, either.

Shortage issues aside, Impossible products are now 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.

Soon it will be even easier for fans to get their hands on Impossible meatless products since they won't have to go to a restaurant. Earlier this summer, Impossible Foods recently received approval to sell its products in grocery stores beginning in September.

For now, Burger King says it's not planning to sell the Impossible Whopper forever, and it will only be available for a limited time. For vegetarians who want to stay to a strict meat-free regiment, a spokesperson for Burger King confirmed to TODAY that guests ordering the Impossible burger in stores may ask for the patty to be cooked in the oven instead of grilled alongside other meats.

The move to trial meatless options mirrors other fast-food restaurants. 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.