I get it. You love how the patty sizzles in the pan, how the fat seeps out of the meat, how the smell is an anticipation of the first bite, which gives the eater a glimpse of what’s beyond: heaven. At least, if I have to believe some of my carnivorous friends –I’m vegetarian– who get slightly poetic when defending their eating habits. And it’s not that I just happen to have very weird friends. Not a surprise that many vegetarian brands have tried to win meat lovers over with alternatives that promise to bring the full meat experience in a vegetarian or vegan version. Although most purists will claim we’re not yet there, some are admitting it’s getting pretty close.
In case you didn’t know yet, meat is creating damage to the planet. Like really bad damage. It is estimated that livestock contributes to 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions, mainly through farting and burping (yes, you read that right). Cattle also consumes about 25% of all freshwater and about a third of all arable land. Although there are quite some differences between different types of meat –beef and lamb are the worst–, plant-based protein sources are typically at least 10 times less polluting. You don’t need to have a major in mathematics to figure out that the world’s growing population and welfare are going to result in a disaster if there is not going to be a shift in dietary choices.
For myself, going vegetarian never felt like a huge step. The most difficult part was actually having my family and friends accept that new reality (crazy, when I look back at it). Therefore, I never really felt the need for vegetarian food that tried to mimic the taste and texture of meat. But I get that for some people this could be the missing stepstone to make the switch. I, therefore, took to the internet to find out how the search for the holy grail of vegetarianism –the real burger experience, but then without real meat– is progressing.
Pretty good as it turns out. There are two clear leaders in the game: The Beyond Burger from Beyond Meat and the Impossible Burger from Impossible Foods. Both have a very similar proposition: a patty that looks, feels, sizzles, and tastes just like your good old burger. Let’s have a closer look.
The Impossible Burger is developed by Stanford professor Patrick Brown and his team. They spend 5 years of research to figure out how to recreate what makes meat feel and taste like meat. As it turns out, heme is the magic component. It is abundant in animal muscles, but also can be obtained from plants by a fermentation method close to the one used to make Belgian beer (my interest for the Impossible Burger doubled after finding out!). The other main ingredients of the burger are wheat, coconut oil, and potatoes.
Beyond Meat is a 7-year old startup that started out making vegan chicken strips and other vegetarian meat alternatives. Their Beyond Burger is their most ambitious endeavor so far. The burger is found in the meat section of the supermarket, which they’d like to see renamed as the protein section. The main ingredients are peas, coconut oil, and beetroot –to make the burger ‘bleed’, you see. Compared to the Impossible Burger, the Beyond Meat also goes beyond gluten and soy.
The question you want to see answered is of course: do those burgers fulfill their promise? Unfortunately, I couldn’t try myself, since both burgers are not available in supermarkets in mainland Europe (what are they waiting for??). The Beyond Burger is available in the UK, so I will certainly try to get some next time I am in London. For now, I had to settle with watching tons of YouTube videos of both meat lovers and vegetarians getting their hands dirty (well, fatty) during a culinary experiment.
For some, the taste and texture of the real and the vegetarian burgers are nearly indistinguishable. For others, there still is a noticeable difference in taste during a side-by-side comparison. Yet, all agree the burgers are very tasteful and come unbelievable close to the real meaty texture. That’s pretty impressive and heralds the end of the era of cardboard vegetarian burgers. Do you happen to have tried one of them? Let me know what’s your experience!
Always remember, even though the Beyond Burger and the Impossible Burger are meat-free –and hence hormone and antibiotics free–, they are not necessarily healthier. They are still calory bombs. But yeah, if you want to have the real burger experience, it’s not supposed to be healthy I suppose. Being conscious about what you are eating is the first step towards a more sustainable diet. And maybe those two burgers can help you make that mental switch. Bon appétit!