If your idea of a veggie burger is a tasteless, crumbly mess that tastes nothing like a real burger, it’s time to meet the new plant-based meats. As more consumers are switching to plant-based proteins, or eating less meat, the quality of meat substitutes has radically improved. I’ll share with you a few of my favorite brands as well as a couple you should avoid….
A New “Morning” For Plant-Based Protein
Almost everybody’s first introduction to a meat substitute is a veggie burger. And almost everybody’s first experience with a veggie burger is either one of two brands: Morningstar Farms (owned by Kellog’s) and Boca Burger (owned by Kraft).
If you’ve never had a veggie burger, imitation chicken nuggets or faux-sausage patties, don’t let your first experience be either of these brands. I’ll explain why in a sec….
But first let me say, as a certified nutritional therapist, I’m all in favor of everybody reducing their meat intake. Studies (like this one) show that consuming red meat is probably cancer-causing. And processed-meats is definitely cancer-causing. Meat, especially factory-farmed meat is not environmentally-sustainable.
Now don’t get me wrong, I think a little bit of wild/grass-fed/pasture-raised animal protein like Alaskan wild salmon can contribute to your health.
In fact, in my opinion, you’re better off eating salmon, organic chicken and grass-fed beef instead of Morningstar Farms and Boca Burger.
Both these popular brands are loaded with highly-processed soy, wheat and gluten. Boca Burger’s Original Vegan Burger contains MSG, which some people are very sensitive to and may contribute to weight gain. I give credit to Morningstar for at least trying to improve by offering a black bean burger, a Mediterranean-style chickpea burger and a quinoa burger. But these offerings also contain cheap vegetable oil and processed soy. In short, I consider both these iconic veggie brands to be of low quality.
Meet the New Meat Alternatives On the Block
Instead of soy protein, which most often is heavily-processed, look for a meat substitute with non-GMO pea protein. Pea protein is very easy to digest. This is another reason why I avoid soy protein unless it’s fermented (miso, tempeh, natto). Soy can cause gas and bloating.
But pass me the peas, please! Pea-based burgers are all the rage these days. And no, the best veggie burgers on the market do not taste like peas. On the contrary, the look, texture, mouthfeel and even color mirror a real juicy, even slightly bloody burger.
If you’re looking for the most authentic burger experience that’s vegan- and vegetarian-friendly, look no further than the brand Beyond Meat.
You can find Beyond Meat in most supermarkets. And get this … it’s located in the meat section. Why? Because the company wants to convert more carnivores to the plant-based protein bandwagon. Thus far, the brand seems to be successfully proselytizing. And to mimic the true look of a beef patty, Beyond Burger uses beet extract and annato seeds to give their faux-burgers a natural red tint.
Beyond Meat also sells ground meat-style “Crumbles” and plant-powered sausage and chicken strips. The brand’s Beyond Burger contains 20 grams of plant-powered protein and provides 35% daily value of iron. Beyond Meat’s products are soy-free, gluten-free and non-GMO.
Mycoprotein: The Plant Protein of the Future is Here….
Another brand that I’m intrigued by but haven’t yet tried is Quorn. The reason I’m Quorn-curious is the brand’s protein is not from peas but rather something called “mycoprotein.”
Mycoprotein is fungus that grows in soil. Now I admit, that doesn’t sound appetizing. But do you think a company would take the risk of launching a business if it tasted truly horrendous? So before you pass judgement on this fungus that’s among us, at least learn a little more about mycoprotein….
Mycoprotein is a biomass. Biomass is simply put, organic matter that’s used for fuel. Mycoprotein as a food source is a recent invention. But that doesn’t mean it’s an industrial “Frankenscience” food. Created in the 1980s by scientists concerned about potential global food shortages, “myco” is fermented by sugar in big vats. The finished product is a high-protein and high-fiber meaty texture.
Ready to give Quorn a try? I am. I think it takes a lot of guts to launch a brand with the intention of helping the planet. Mycoprotein requires less land and water than animal protein. According to the company, mycoprotein has a 90% lower carbon footprint.
Some of Quorn’s products are vegan-friendly while its non-vegan meat substitute products contain egg whites.
Eat Well With Plants & Hillary
Hillary’s Eat Well brand is another plant-powered protein meat sub I love. Like Beyond Meat and Quorn, Hillary’s is soy-free and contains nutrient-dense plants and grains in their meatless options. For instance, its Spicy Veggie Sausage contains millet, lentils and dates. Dates are high in sugar but there’s only two grams of sugar per sausage patty. I also like that they use coconut oil instead of cheap corn oil or soybean oil. Another bonus is that instead of regular table salt, which contains no minerals other than sodium chloride, Hillary’s uses Redmond’s Real Salt, which is rich in trace minerals.
Several of the ingredients in Hillary’s products are organic. But how does it taste you’re wondering? Really frickin’ good! Hillary’s uses savory spices such as fennel, sage, thyme, rosemary, paprika, nutmeg and cayenne pepper. Ever had a veggie burger with spices like that?
Still, if you’re a “flexitarian” (meaning you go both ways: plant and meat) and you want the most authentic-looking, tasting and mouthfeel of a real beef burger, give Beyond Meat first dibs.
Plant-Based Meats: Chef V’s Conclusion
I think it’s great that even McDonalds is giving meatless burgers a try. In case you haven’t heard the news, the company’s flagship restaurant in Chicago recently launched a vegan sandwich called the McAloo Tikki.
Say what, you ask? The name comes from McDonalds veggie patty that’s made in some of its restaurants (if you can call it that) in India. It’s made with potatoes, peas, fresh red onions, tomato slices, and an eggless tomato mayo.
McDonalds also introduced a vegan burger in Sweden and Finland in 2017 and plans to do the same in the U.K. soon. Is it only a matter of time before “Mickey D’s” has plant-based meat burgers throughout the U.S.? It’s hard to say, but the future is looking very green….
More and more neighborhood restaurants are offering plant-based burgers. Before you order one though, ask the server for the full list of ingredients. If the server isn’t sure, stick with a salad and steamed veggies.
And when you’re shopping for plant-based protein meat alternatives at the store, remember to carefully analyze the ingredients. The new plant-based “meats” are soy-free, gluten-free, corn-free, and contain no vegetable oils. That means that despite my love for Trader Joe’s its Meatless Breakfast Patties doesn’t fit my criteria for being a healthy meat substitute.
I’m very excited about the evolution of plant-powered protein. I can’t wait to try more of the new faux meats on the block and share with you more of my own meatless recipes….