USA – The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved soy leghemoglobin as a color additive in uncooked ground beef analog products.

This follows meat-alternative company Impossible Foods’ 2018 petition to have the ingredient accepted as a color additive.

The additive imparts a reddish-brown color but has already been used by Impossible Foods to give an optimized beefy flavor.

Soy leghemoglobin is a form of heme – an iron-containing compound found in every living organism and in this case in the roots of soy and is a key ingredient in Impossible Burgers. 

In July 2018, Impossible Foods received a no inclusion letter from the FDA validating the unanimous conclusion of food-safety experts that its key ingredient soy leghemoglobin generally recognized as safe (GRAS).

The FDA noted that the ingredient could be considered to be a color additive in some potential future applications citing that the color is key to marketing the appearance of the food as ground beef analog in direct-to-consumer settings. 

According to a Food Ingredients First report, this ruling will allow the company to now sell raw Impossible Burgers directly to consumers, instead of cooked via restaurants.

“We are in the midst of a revolution in food technology that in the next ten years will likely lead to more innovations in food and ingredient production than there have been in the past half-century.

“As these new products and ingredient sources come to the market, the FDA has a responsibility to provide the appropriate regulatory oversight to protect public health by ensuring that these new foods and food ingredients are safe,” says Dennis Keefe, Director of the Office of Food Additive Safety in the FDA.

“As part of these efforts, the FDA has approved Impossible Foods’ color additive petition for the use of soy leghemoglobin in alternative, non-animal protein sources, like vegetable burgers.

“After a thorough review of available scientific information, the FDA has concluded that this use is safe. This action will allow the use of soy leghemoglobin in uncooked beef analog products sold directly to consumers, such as in food retail settings,” he stated. 

The regulatory body has reviewed all the information and data submitted by Impossible foods, in addition to other outside information and concluded that there is a reasonable level of certainty the use of soy leghemoglobin as a color additive will cause no harm.

Impossible foods use a genetically engineered yeast to harvest leghemoglobin at an industrial scale. The company says that this ingredient is what gives the burgers a specifically meaty flavor.