I have been vegan for more than fifteen years. And for twice as long I have been a Registered Dietitian, chef instructor and culinary educator. Years ago, I didn’t have to think much about “fake meat” because it didn’t really exist. But these days, it feels like I get a piece of daily news about what new non-meat is on the market or what will be coming out. The latest that I have read about is from Morningstar Farms (not high on my list as it’s owned by Kellogg’s – did you know that? I didn’t either until I got to the end of the release.) and is called Incogmeato. Because I intentionally won’t be attending the Natural Products Expo in Anaheim in March 2020, I won’t get to taste this “fake meat” but it’s OK with me.
Are Plant-Based Burgers Good Food For You?
Clearly these plant-based burger foods are designed and made for meat-eaters. They even almost say it in their release. However, I have a friend who told me that she and her husband were meat-eaters and this is the kind of product that would appeal to them. Maybe it’s me who is missing the boat (or the cow.) It seems to me, though, that these highly processed products might not be “good (I accidentally first typed food) for you.” Or maybe I should be straight forward and just say they are not good food for you.
Or are they? Is it better for people to go plant-based and eat more of these foods which might (and I say might because of the cost and energy used for processing) be better for the planet? It is certainly better for animals, but what about the big picture. I am quite sure that I just can’t see a picture that big.
What is Being Said About Plant-Based Meat Replacements?
So… I started writing this and then there was a webinar on just this topic. Amazing, right? Clearly I am not the only person thinking about this. The webinar was produced by New Hope which is the company that puts on the Natural Products Expo, which I usually attend. I have opted out this year because I am not happy with the way that the food world seems to be headed. I do still receive all the press releases so I know what is going on – too much processed food, for sure.
Here’s my summation of what they said in the webinar:
- Nutritionally burgers have some good and bad. Generally, they are much higher in sodium than meat, and they have many more ingredients. The main proteins were soy (56%), pea (21%), wheat (13%) and other (8%). Nutrition grades went from B to C+.
- The top 5 burgers nutritionally are the Alpha burger, Boca All American, Gardein the ultimate beefless burger, Sol Cuisine, Extreme Griller and Trader Joe’s High Protein burger.
- 82% of the burgers analyzed (which was more than 20) contained one of the top allergens
- Regarding taste (and they did have taste testers, few of whom were vegan but a good proportion of vegetarians but most were omnivores): none rated higher than 3.8 out of 5. Here are the top 5 for taste, none of which are the ones that are most nutritious (interesting, right?): Beyond Burger, Sweet Earth Awesome Burger, Lightlife Plant-Based Burger, Field Roast Field Burger, Quorn Meatless Gourmet Burger. It was pointed out that these are often found in several different places in the store: refrigerated near the meat, refrigerated near plant-based and even frozen. So it seems that people will have to really look around to find what they might like, although some brands such as Beyond and Impossible have such name recognition at this point that people will search.
- Prices are all over the map and range from .49 (or .20 per ounce) to $4.05 (1.01 per ounce) per patty.
- The environmental impact (land use, greenhouse gases, water use) of eating plant-based burgers seems huge and worth considering in this equation.
- While plant-based burger sales have gone up, so have sales of meat-based burgers. Strange but true.
Here is what Jessie Rose Shafer, RD said in the webinar:
•The “better for you” positioning of these products is a gray area. True, in some scenarios plant-based burgers are a personal healthier choice, but not in all. When evaluating plant-based burgers against each other, the category varies widely. When evaluating plant-based burgers against conventional beef patties, plant-based burgers are a more nutritious choice for many people.
If you are vegan, then the choice is clear. If you are a meat-eater, well…I am not sure what to say, other than, certainly there are many reasons to choose plant-based burgers.
Make a Plant-Based Burger at Home:
Or…you could just make your own plant-based burger at home! Here is one of my more recent burger recipes:
Black Bean, Wild Rice and Millet Veggie Burgers
I had the wild rice and black beans already cooked, and I decided that I didn’t want my usual blend of black and red rice, so I cooked millet, which I had not done in a long time. The first batch of burgers didn’t have millet, but when I was mixing the ingredients for the second batch, the millet called to me, asking to become part of the burger. I made it so!
I chose to barely season the burger and let the toppings shine through although any seasoning blend would likely work in this burger but not so much if you do have cilantro. Parsley is much more a blank slate. Or make them as I did – simple and delicious. They freeze well. Put waxed paper between them and reheat in the Mealthy CrispLid (or another air fryer) at 325 for about 10 minutes until crispy and hot. (This will also work with the burgers in the burger chapter of Vegan Under Pressure.)
Makes 4 burgers
1/4 cup roughly chopped red onion
2 cloves garlic
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
2 tablespoons chopped jalapeno, optional
2 tablespoons nutritional yeast
2 tablespoons cilantro or parsley, optional
1 cup well-cooked black beans
1/2 cup cooked wild rice (but you could use brown rice, black rice or red rice)
1 to 3 teaspoons Bragg liquid aminos
1/2 cup cooked millet or more of the other grain that you used
Put the onion through nutritional yeast (or herbs if using) in a food processor and pulse until the onion is chopped up and the seeds are broken up. Add the black beans and wild rice and process until it comes together but not too long. Add that mixture to a bowl and add Bragg amino and millet. Stir.
To form the burgers, I used a Mason jar lid with plastic wrap and put 1/2 cup of the burger mixture pack it down. I put the burgers on a plate and then transferred them to the parchment-lined CrispLid basket which was on the high trivet.
I cooked them at 400 degrees for 8 minutes, then turned them carefully and did another 8 minutes on the other side.
You can easily cook these in the oven without an airfyer, lid or otherwise. I like to cook my veggie burgers on parchment.
If you want to buy a Mealthy CrispLid, you can read more about it or go to the Mealthy site. You can get $10 off with code theveggiequeen at checkout.
Here are a couple of other veggie burgers that I like: Red Lentil, Sweet Potato Hemp Burger from Vegan Under Pressure and the Sunflower Lentil Quinoa Burgers. These are true whole food plant-based burgers and are not intended to taste like meat, because they definitely don’t. (You can add liquid smoke, smoked paprika or vegan Worcestershire sauce to bump up the flavor but still…no meaty taste).