Carbon-Copy Burgers: Impossibly Vegan Burgers Go Beyond Burgers

French fries are freaking.  Cows are quaking.  And kiss those sad TVP soy burgers goodbye.  An entirely new generation of vegan hamburgers are making their way into the market and, impossibly, they may taste even better than the real thing.  They threaten to remake the entire hamburger and fries ritual celebrated throughout the world.

The two most promising entries in the meatless hamburger race are Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger.   The latter, pictured below, is a rich, beefy, lab-derived copy of the traditional beef burger.  Both burgers go far beyond the fake-burgers of the past, and their future is beefier than even the most beefy of burgers.   And this is important because the world needs to reduce its reliance upon beef and pork proteins.  These carbon-copy burgers may be an important step towards that urgent goal.

THE IMPOSSIBLE BURGER

Impossible Burgers have come up with a 2.0 version of their original burger.  The new recipe derives its protein from soy instead of wheat, which makes it more nutritionally sound and gives it better texture.  Plus, it’s gluten-free!  The flavor and color come from heme, a protein found in beef, a version of which is also found in plants. Impossible Foods genetically engineers and ferments a type of yeast to create a version of the heme protein that you can find in soybeans. It has lower fat, lower sodium, higher quality protein.

Could you tell the difference?

But you may need to prepare yourself for the bill;  these burger ain’t cheap. The 2.0 version of the Impossible Burgers are supposed to be available in well-known restaurants nationwide by March 2019, including but not limited to NYC restaurants Momofuku Nishi and Mission Chinese Food, the Ohio-based B Spot burger restaurants and a number of high-end restaurants in the West Coast.  Applebee’s restaurant chain is also expected to sell the new 2.0 burgers.   We estimate the restaurant prices will be between $12-18 per burger  (compared to $8-14 for a traditional Angus beef burger) As Impossible Foods scales up its production of Impossible Burger, the price should come down.   Currently, the burgers are unavailable for retail purchase, although they are expected to arrive in some grocers’ aisles sometime later this year.

Compared to its Beyond competitor,  the Impossible Burger is meatier.  It is able to imitate the aroma of beef, thanks in part to heme, an iron-based cofactor that’s found in all sorts of living organisms but is particularly common in animals.  By creating and then adding heme to their plant-based burgers, combined with some yeast extract, they smell and taste like meat.  Cooked rare, they are impressive facsimiles of the real thing and, just perhaps, a bit better.   Certainly, we felt healthier after eating the copies.

BEYOND BURGER

The Beyond Burger is produced by the Beyond Meat company.   They can be found in restaurants as well as grocery stores.  They average about $6-7 per package (2 burgers per package).    So at about $3 per burger, they aren’t a bargain but that ain’t bad.  To make their meatless burger, Beyond uses pea proteins designed to match the texture and protein benefits of animal-based meat.  Reliance upon pea protein makes the Beyond burger patty free of GMOs, gluten and soy with lower saturated fat than regular beef, to boot.

In its raw form, its texture is like a lean, very finely ground beef, albiet a little greasier and slicker-feeling. After high-heat cooking,the exterior crisps and browns in a way that isn’t particularly beef-like, tastes great. Even better, he pea protein has a chewy, meaty texture.   So long as you don’t overcook it, the burger remains moist and flavorful.   Pared with sweet potato fries, it easily held its own……and actually may have been a bit better than traditional burgers.

While widely available at Whole Foods and other upscale grocery chains for the better part of two years, the Beyond Burger is blasting forth into restaurants in 2019.   It recently announced a partnership with Carl’s Jr, in which the vegan burger will be available for about $6.29 burger (or with the option to add to any existing burger for $2).  It takes Beyond’s product into a new and vast market of meat lovers.  Our taste test of the Beyond Burger suggests that it will easily compete with its beefier cousins.   It grills on a bar-be-que or in a cast-iron griddle and comes out juicier than the “real” thing.

IMPACT UPON THE PLANET

Don’t overlook the benefit these burgers bring to our planet.  A University of Michigan study found that Beyond Burger generates 90% less greenhouse gas emissions, requires 46% less energy, and has 99% less impact on water scarcity and 93% less impact on land use than a quarter pound of U.S. beef. That means a 41-square-foot plot of land can produce just one beef burger for every 15 Beyond Burgers.  In other words, Americans switching from beef to plant-based patties would be the equivalent of taking 12 million cars off the road for an entire year–or saving enough electricity to power 2.3 million homes. According to Impossible Foods, its product uses 95% less land and 74% less water, and creates 87% less in greenhouse gas emissions, than a beef burger of equal size. And, of course, most important for vegans, it uses 100% fewer cows.

In the “Planetary Health Diet“recently published in Lancet and  developed by researchers and nutritionists,  reduction of beef and pork proteins are deemed essential to improved health for both you and the planet.  Specifically, the report stated global consumption of foods like red meat and sugar needs to be cut in half….or more…. while consumption of fruits, nuts, and vegetables should double.  The plant-based meat substitutes can play an important role in shifting us to a healthier planet.  On top of this, beef has been found to trigger forms of cancer in the human body, so reducing beef intake is even more pressing.

However, be warned that these carbon-copy burgers aren’t necessarily health food.   Nutrition-wise, both burgers are comparable to a beef patty. The Beyond Burger has 22 grams of total fat but only five grams of saturated fat per quarter pound.  The Impossible Burger has 17 grams of total fat but its 15 grams of saturated fat are a bit worrisome.  That’s a full 72% of your daily allowance.  The Beyond Burger also has 20 grams of protein, while the Impossible Burger has 28 grams.  Plus, both vegan burgers have more than five times as much sodium as an unseasoned beef patty. So while healthier for the planet, the Impossible Burger should not be considered a superfood as much as it is simply better than eating beef.

One other warning for you vegans out there.  Some members of your tribe have tasted the Impossible Burger and have been disgusted by the fact that it tastes so damn much like beef.   Both are great burgers, but only for those who like the taste of beef.

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