How Do the New Plant-Based Burgers Stack Up? We Taste-Tested Them
The Impossible Burger replicates the beefy look and taste of a traditional hamburger. Credit…Con Poulos for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Simon Andrews.
In just two years, food technology has moved consumers from browsing for wan “veggie patties” in the frozen aisle to selecting fresh “plant-based burgers” sold next to the ground beef.
Behind the scenes at the supermarket, giant battles are being waged: Meat producers are suing to have the words “meat” and “burger” restricted to their own products.
Makers of meat alternatives Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods are vying to capture the global fast-food market, as big players Tyson and Perdue join the fray. Environmental and food scientists are insisting that we eat more plants and less processed food.
Many vegetarians and vegans say the goal is to break the habit of eating meat, not feed it with surrogates.
“I would still prefer to eat something that’s not lab-grown,” said Isa Chandra Moskowitz, the chef at the vegan restaurant Modern Love in Omaha, where her own burger is the most popular dish on the menu. “But it’s better for people and for the planet to eat one of those burgers instead of meat every day, if that’s what they are going to do anyway.”
The new refrigerator-case “meat” products already comprise one of the fastest-growing segments of the food industry.
Some are proudly high-tech, assembled from an array of starches, fats, salts, sweeteners and synthetic umami-rich proteins. They are made possible by new technologies that, for example, whip coconut oil and cocoa butter into tiny globules of white fat that give the Beyond Burger the marbled appearance of ground beef.
Others are resolutely simple, whole grains and vegetables, and reverse-engineered with ingredients yeast extract and barley malt to be crustier, browner and juicier than their frozen veggie-burger predecessors. (Some consumers are turning away from those familiar products, not only because of the taste, but because they are most often made with highly processed ingredients.)
But how do all the newcomers perform at the table?
The Times restaurant critic Pete Wells, our cooking columnist Melissa Clark and I lined up both kinds of new vegan burgers for a blind tasting of six national brands.
Though many people have already tasted these burgers in restaurants, we wanted to replicate the experience of a home cook.
(To that end, Melissa and I roped in our daughters: my 12-year-old vegetarian and her 11-year-old burger aficionado.)
Each burger was seared with a teaspoon of canola oil in a hot skillet, and served in a potato bun. We first tasted them plain, then loaded with our favorites among the classic toppings: ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, pickles and American cheese. Here are the results, on a rating scale of one to five stars.
ImageCredit…Evan Sung for The New York Times
Maker Impossible Foods, Redwood City, Calif.
Slogan “Made From Plants For People Who Love Meat”
Selling points Vegan, gluten-free.
Price $8.99 for a 12-ounce package.
Tasting notes “The most a beef burger by far,” was my first scribbled note. Everyone d its crisp edges, and Pete noted its “brawny flavor.” My daughter was convinced it was a real ground beef patty, slipped in to confuse us.
The only one of the six contenders that includes genetically modified ingredients, the Impossible Burger contains a compound (soy leghemoglobin) created and manufactured by the company from plant hemoglobins; it quite successfully replicates the “bloody” look and taste of a rare burger.
Melissa deemed it “charred in a good way,” but, most plant-based burgers, it became rather dried out before we finished eating.
Ingredients Water, soy protein concentrate, coconut oil, sunflower oil, natural flavors, 2 percent or less of: potato protein, methylcellulose, yeast extract, cultured dextrose, food starch-modified, soy leghemoglobin, salt, soy protein isolate, mixed tocopherols (vitamin E), zinc gluconate, thiamine hydrochloride (vitamin B1), sodium ascorbate (vitamin C), niacin, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin B12.
Maker Beyond Meat, El Segundo, Calif.
Slogan “Go Beyond”
Selling points Vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, non-G.M.O.
Price $5.99 for two four-ounce patties.
Tasting notes The Beyond Burger was “juicy with a convincing texture,” per Melissa, who also commended its “roundness, with lots of umami.” Her daughter identified a faint but pleasing smoky flavor, reminiscent of barbecue-flavored potato chips.
I d its texture: crumbly but not dry, as a burger should be. This burger was the most visually similar to one made of ground beef, evenly marbled with white fat (made from coconut oil and cocoa butter) and oozing a bit of red juice, from beets.
Over all, Pete said, a “real beefy” experience.
Ingredients Water, pea protein isolate, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil, rice protein, natural flavors, cocoa butter, mung bean protein, methylcellulose, potato starch, apple extract, salt, potassium chloride, vinegar, lemon juice concentrate, sunflower lecithin, pomegranate fruit powder, beet juice extract (for color).
Price $5.99 for two four-ounce patties.
Tasting notes “Warm and spicy” with a “crisp exterior” according to Melissa, the Lightlife burger is a new offering from a company that has been making burgers and other meat substitutes from tempeh (a fermented soy product with a sturdier texture than tofu) for decades. That’s probably why it nailed the “firm and chewy texture” that I found a little bready, but “not worse than most fast-food burgers.” “Pretty good when loaded up” was Pete’s final verdict.
Ingredients Water, pea protein, expeller-pressed canola oil, modified cornstarch, modified cellulose, yeast extract, virgin coconut oil, sea salt, natural flavor, beet powder (for color), ascorbic acid (to promote color retention), onion extract, onion powder, garlic powder.
Maker Before the Butcher, San Diego
Slogan “Meaty but Meatless”
Selling points Vegan, gluten-free, non-G.M.O.
Price $5.49 for two four-ounce patties, available later this year.
Tasting notes The Uncut Burger, so named by the manufacturer to imply the opposite of a cut of meat, actually rated among the meatiest of the bunch.
I was impressed by its slightly chunky texture, “ good coarse-ground beef,” but Melissa felt it made the burger fall apart “ wet cardboard.” The taste seemed “bacony” to Pete, perhaps because of the “grill flavor” and “smoke flavor” listed in the formula.
(To food manufacturers, they are not quite the same thing: one is intended to taste of charring, the other of wood smoke.)
Ingredients Water, soy protein concentrate, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil, isolated soy protein, methylcellulose, yeast extract (yeast extract, salt, natural flavor), caramel color, natural flavor (yeast extract, maltodextrin, salt, natural flavors, medium chain triglycerides, acetic acid, grill flavor [from sunflower oil], smoke flavor), beet juice powder (maltodextrin, beet juice extract, citric acid), natural red color (glycerin, beet juice, annatto), citric acid.
Maker Field Roast, Seattle
Slogan “Plant-Based Artisanal Meats”
Selling points Vegan, soy-free, non-G.M.O.
Price About $6 for four 3.25-ounce patties.
Tasting notes Not much meat, but still “much better than the classic” frozen vegetarian patties, to my mind, and the consensus choice for a good vegetable burger (rather than a meat replica).
Tasters d its “vegetal” notes, a reflection of the onions, celery and three different forms of mushroom — fresh, dried and powdered — on the ingredients list.
There was some crispness to in the crust, according to Pete, but the bready interior (it contains gluten) was not popular. “Maybe this burger would do better without a bun?” he asked.
Ingredients Vital wheat gluten, filtered water, organic expeller-pressed palm fruit oil, barley, garlic, expeller-pressed safflower oil, onions, tomato paste, celery, carrots, naturally flavored yeast extract, onion powder, mushrooms, barley malt, sea salt, spices, carrageenan (Irish moss sea vegetable extract), celery seed, balsamic vinegar, black pepper, shiitake mushrooms, porcini mushroom powder, yellow pea flour.
Maker Sweet Earth Foods, Moss Landing, Calif.
Slogan “Exotic by Nature, Conscious by Choice”
Selling points Vegan, soy-free, non-G.M.O.
Price About $4.25 for two four-ounce patties.
Tasting notes This burger is sold only in flavors; I chose Mediterranean as the most neutral.
Tasters d the familiar profile of what Melissa declared “the burger for people who love falafel,” made mostly from chickpeas and bulked out with mushrooms and gluten.
(Called “vital wheat gluten” on ingredient lists, it is a concentrated formulation of wheat gluten, commonly added to bread to make it lighter and chewier, and the main ingredient in seitan.
) The burger wasn’t meaty, but had “nutty, toasted grain” notes that I d from brown rice, and whiffs of spices cumin and ginger. This burger is a longtime market leader, and Sweet Earth was recently acquired by Nestlé USA on the strength of it; the company is now introducing a new plant-meat contender called the Awesome Burger.
Ingredients Garbanzo beans, mushroom, vital wheat gluten, green peas, kale, water, bulgur wheat, barley, bell peppers, carrot, quinoa, extra-virgin olive oil, red onion, celery, flax seed, cilantro, garlic, nutritional yeast, granulated garlic, sea salt, ginger, granulated onion, lime juice concentrate, cumin, canola oil, oregano.
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Win Your Next Barbecue With This Vegan Burger Recipe
Given the scorching summer the UK has been treated to this year there has been no shortage of opportunities to experiment with what goes on your barbecue, so if you’re still resolutely sticking to blackened sausages and beef burgers then, frankly, shame on you.
This juicy vegan burger recipe created by Christian Stevenson, aka DJ BBQ, in partnership with Amazon’s Smile It’s Summer campaign, is a great way to expand your barbecue horizons. And trust us when we say that it won’t only be vegans who are impressed when you knock up a batch of these tasty burgers.
- 1 onion
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 2 corn on the cob (or 200g canned sweetcorn)
- 400g can of butter beans, drained and dried on kitchen towel
- 2 grated beetroot
- 1tsp oregano flakes
- 1tsp celery salt
- 1tsp black pepper
- 2-3tbsp plain flour
- Juice of ½ lemon
- ½tbsp paprika
- ½tbsp cayenne pepper
- ½tbsp sea salt
- ½tbsp black pepper
- ½tbsp garlic granules
- ½tbsp onion granules
- 4 burger buns
- 1 iceberg lettuce
- 1 ripe tomato, sliced
- Vegan mayonnaise
- Cook your onions and garlic in the coals – no need to wrap them in anything. Take them out when blackened, removing the charred skin once cool. Place the corn on the cobs (still in their husks) in the coals and cook for 15 minutes, turning regularly. Then take the corn off the heat and let it cool in a metal tray.
- Place all the ingredients for the spice mix into a bowl and mix.
- Once cooled, remove the husks from the cobs and slice the sweetcorn kernels off the cobs with a knife. Remove the charcoaled skin from the onions and garlic and roughly chop with the corn.
- Crush the beans in a large bowl with a fork until mushy. Then add the corn, garlic and onion, as well as the oregano, grated beetroot, celery salt, pepper, 2-4tsp of the flour and lemon juice. Mix it all together. It will seem quite wet, but that’s what you need is to ensure that your burger patty comes out juicy.
- Place a frying pan on the barbecue over direct heat, and get it nice and hot..
- Empty the burger mix on a floured board and divide into four balls. Coat well with the flour and spice mix, and shape the balls into four patties.
- Add vegetable oil to the pan, then carefully place each patty into the pan and fry, flipping a couple of times until you have a nice even golden crust on both sides. You’re aiming for a burger with an crunchy coating and a soft centre.
- When the burgers are ready, slice open and toast your buns.
Serve with any combination you of lettuce, tomato, ketchup and vegan mayonnaise.
Fire Food: The Ultimate BBQ Cookbook by DJ BBQ is available now. £10 (RRP £15), buy on Amazon
Grillable Veggie Burger
You guys, I don’t even know where to start, other than, I MADE A VEGGIE BURGER THAT’S GRILLABLE.
All hail the veggie burger!
If you’ve followed Minimalist Baker for a while, you know I’ve made many veggie burgers in the past – exhibit A, B, C, D, and E. Yes, it’s an obsession – I know.
But none of these burgers have been truly “grillable” due to their fragile texture. And because we aren’t currently grill owners, I usually opt for baking or sautéing anyway.
Recently, however we’ve been attending more summer BBQs and I’ve been receiving emails from people asking for a burger that will hold up on the grill.
Friends, I’ve found the solution. Bonus? It’s so easy.
This burger requires just 10 ingredients (give or take a spice) and comes together in 30 minutes (once your brown rice is cooked).
Plus, the method is so simple:
Blend toasted walnuts with spicesSauté onionMash black beansAdd remaining ingredients
Stir/mash a madwoman/madman.
All that’s left to do is form them into patties and fire up the grill (or skillet).
I tested these burgers on both the grill and skillet and am happy to report they’re fabulous either way.
You do get a bit more “char” and blackening on the grill, whereas with sautéing you get a more evenly browned surface. So pick and choose by which texture you prefer.
You guys are going to LOVE these burgers! They’re:
HeartySimpleSuper flavorfulSatisfyingLoaded with healthy ingredientsCrowd-pleasing
& Seriously tasty
Oh, and did I mention each burger (one of five) has nearly 10 grams of protein?! Trust me, you’re going to go home satisfied after eating one of these (especially when paired with a hearty salad, sweet potato wedges, or crispy baked matchstick fries).
If you try this recipe let us know what you think! Leave a comment and rate it – it’s so helpful for us and other readers. And don’t forget to snap a picture and tag it #minimalistbaker on Instagram so we can see! I’d love to see what you come up with. Cheers, friends!
Cuisine Gluten-Free, VeganFreezer Friendly 3 Weeks (see notes)
- 1 cup cooked brown rice*
- 1 cup raw walnuts (or sub bread crumbs)
- 1/2 Tbsp avocado oil (plus more for cooking)
- 1/2 medium white onion (finely diced // 1/2 onion yields ~3/4 cup)
- 1 Tbsp each chili powder, cumin powder, and smoked paprika
- 1/2 tsp each sea salt and black pepper (plus more for coating burgers)
- 1 Tbsp coconut sugar (or sub organic brown or muscovado sugar)
- 1 1/2 cups cooked black beans* (well rinsed, drained and patted dry)
- 1/3 cup panko bread crumbs (if gluten-free, use gluten-free bread crumbs)
- 3-4 Tbsp vegan BBQ sauce
- If your brown rice isn’t cooked yet, start there by following this method for the best results. Otherwise, move onto the next step.
- Heat skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add raw walnuts and toast for 5-7 minutes, stirring frequently, until fragrant and golden brown. Let cool and move onto the next step.
- In the meantime, heat the same skillet over medium heat. Once hot, add oil and onion. Season with a bit of salt and pepper and sauté for 3-4 minutes, or until onion is fragrant, soft, and translucent. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Once walnuts are cooled, add to blender or food processor with chili powder, cumin, smoked paprika, salt, pepper and coconut sugar and blend until a fine meal (see photo) is achieved. Set aside.
- To a large mixing bowl, add drained, dried black beans and mash well with a fork, leaving only a few whole beans (see photo).
- Next add cooked rice, spice-walnut mixture, sautéed onion, panko bread crumbs, BBQ sauce, and mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon for 1-2 minutes, or until a moldable dough forms. If dry, add extra 1-2 Tbsp (amount as original recipe is written // adjust if altering batch size) BBQ sauce. If too wet, add more panko bread crumbs. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.
- For larger burgers, divide into 5 patties (1/2 cup in size // amount as original recipe is written), or form 10 smaller burgers (1/4 cup in size // amount as original recipe is written). To help form the patties, line your 1/2 or 1/4 measuring cup with plastic wrap and pack with burger mixture. Press down to pack firmly, then lift out by the plastic wrap’s edge, and slightly flatten with hands to form a 3/4-inch thick patty. Set on a baking sheet or plate for grilling.
- If grilling, heat the grill at this time and brush the grill surface with oil to ease cooking. Otherwise, heat the same skillet you used earlier to medium heat.
- Once skillet is hot, add just enough oil to lightly coat the bottom of your skillet, then add your burgers – only as many as will comfortably fit in the pan. Otherwise, add burgers to the grill and close lid.
- Cook for 3-4 minutes or until well browned on the underside, then flip gently. They aren’t as firm as meat burgers, but will definitely hold their shape. Reduce heat if cooking/browning too quickly. Cook for 3-4 minutes on other side.
- Remove burgers from heat to let cool slightly, and prepare any other toppings/sides at this time (such as grilling/toasting your buns).
- Serve burgers as is, or on toasted buns with desired toppings. Leftovers keep in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. See notes for freezing/reheating instructions.
*To cook rice, I recommend this method from Saveur. It yields fluffy, perfect rice, which is key to keeping these burgers from becoming too wet or gummy in texture. // Prep time does not include cooking rice.*One 15-ounce (425 g) can of black beans yields only 1 1/4 cups black beans. So if using canned, be sure to grab two cans (amount as original recipe is written // adjust if altering batch size)! Also, if black beans are unsalted, add 1/4 tsp extra salt to burger mixture (amount as original recipe is written // adjust if altering batch size).*For a simple burger sauce mix 2 parts vegan mayo and 1 part ketchup. Add hot sauce or Sriracha for extra heat.*To freeze for later, cook burgers as instructed on grill or skillet. Then set on a baking sheet or plate and freeze. Once frozen completely, seal in a freezer-safe bag or container and store for up to 3 weeks. Reheat in a 375 degree F oven on a bare baking sheet for 20-30 minutes, or until warmed through and golden brown (or in the microwave for 1-2 minutes).
*Nutrition information is a rough estimate calculated with the lesser amount of BBQ sauce and without a bun or toppings.
Serving: 1burgersCalories: 314kcalCarbohydrates: 36.5gProtein: 9.4gFat: 15.9gSaturated Fat: 1.6gPolyunsaturated Fat: 10.19gMonounsaturated Fat: 3.19gTrans Fat: 0gCholesterol: 0mgSodium: 550mgPotassium: 395mgFiber: 8.4gSugar: 5.4gVitamin A: 975IUVitamin C: 2.36mgCalcium: 76.95mgIron: 3.25mg