I Tried the Much-Hyped Beyond Burger
The Environmentalist from Hell puts the vegan Beyond Burger to the test.
Many people enjoy the taste of cooked dead animal. I am not one of them. Even though the number of vegetarians and vegans in the world is increasing, many folk say they love the taste of real meat too much to make the switch, despite the evidence that eating less meat is good for the planet and their health.
Some people think the solution to this problem is to create convincing substitutes. The first commercial fake meat in North America, Nuttose, was sold in 1896. It was the creation of Dr. John Harvey Kellogg — yes, of snap-crackle-pop breakfast-cereal fame.
This 19th-century alternative meat was made of peanuts and starch and tasted, apparently… like peanuts and starch. Let’s just say it wasn’t a huge hit, and vegetarianism didn’t really take off in North America until the hippies reigned with all their groovy peace, love, and Boca Burgers (ok, Boca Burgers came out in the late 70s, but you get the idea).
Recently, there’s been an upheaval in the fake meat scene. A new product, the Beyond Burger, has been making big claims that it “looks, cooks, and satisfies like beef.” Wha?! Looks like beef? Cooks like beef? How can that be? And does it live up to those claims?
The Beyond Burger has been getting a lot of media attention since its launch in May 2016. One Buzzfeed reporter wrote, “The burgers tasted so much like meat that I had to go back and double-check the box to make sure these were, in fact, vegan.”
It took a while for the product to get approval in Canada, hitting our market earlier this year. Last month, A&W Canada reported shortages of the Beyond Burger only months after adding it to their menu. Apparently, people are into the fakery, or at least they’re into taste-testing this highly promoted new food.
As a long-time vegetarian, I wasn’t so sure I wanted a burger to taste like meat, but I was interested enough to give it a try. I convinced a meat-eating friend to taste-test the Beyond Burger with me. However, since A&W cooks their burgers on the same grill they cook beef on — making the chances of contamination more likely and icky for me — we went to Meet on Main, a vegetarian restaurant in Vancouver that also serves it.
The last time I ate meat was a bite of a boyfriend’s steak in 2012. I remember thinking, “Yup, still tastes like dead flesh to me.” It would be hard to rewire my brain into accepting that as tasty, but I tried to keep an open mind.
We sat down after the lunch rush at Meet, and noticed that the Beyond patty is a $3.75 upgrade to any of their burgers — a pretty hefty upsell on a regular $12 veggie burger. After enjoying 90s dance hits of the Spice Girls and Whitney Houston, we welcomed our meals. I was nervous — would it be gross? Would I realize that I want the taste of meat again? My meat-eater friend mostly remained skeptical that it would live up to its hype.
Meat-eater friend: I can tell it’s a veggie patty because the shape is too consistent. It looks like a veggie patty.
Me: It does look more pink than most veggie burgers.
Me: Something tastes different. It’s smokey. I know it’s not meat, but it’s meaty. I think if I was at a party and someone gave this to me I would be suspicious that it was real meat.
Meat-eater friend: It’s not bad. It’s not as dry as other veggie burgers I’ve had.
After several bites, we came to the conclusion that it did have a sort of bloody, iron-ish taste. It was chewy, in a good way. It didn’t fall apart like some veggie patties do. But the ultimate question is: given the option, would I go for a Beyond Burger again?
As someone who thinks a lot about the environment and my own health, I try to avoid processed food because it’s often packed with salt and sugar. When I got home, I looked into the stats to see if the Beyond Burger could be a good addition to a healthy diet.
According to Beyond Meat’s website, the Beyond Burger has 20 g of plant-based protein and contains no GMOs, soy, or gluten. The primary source of protein in the Beyond Burger comes from peas. The ingredients are: water, pea protein, canola oil, coconut oil, and 2% or less of a bunch of things, notably beet juice extract for color. It’s what makes the burger look like it’s bleeding! Neat, huh?
The one thing that stood out from the nutritional information was that these burgers contain 380 mg of sodium. That seemed like a lot of salt. But what do I know? I went to A&W Canada’s website for full nutritional information to gain some perspective. The Beyond Meat burger with bun and toppings is 500 calories, with 22 g of protein and 1110 mg of sodium. Yikes!
Their popular Teen Burger is also 500 calories. It has 25g of protein, and 910 mg of sodium. Wha?! 200 mg less than the veggie burger?! Oy vey. For perspective on this salt issue, Health Canada recommends adults get 1500 mg — and no more than 2300 mg — of sodium a day. Really it’s no surprise that burgers and fast food aren’t that nutritionally good for you.
While I wasn’t wowed by the Beyond Burger, I was intrigued by it. I looked for it the next time I went grocery shopping, just to see. Unfortunately it’s only sold in the meat department, so I had to look at hunks of beef, lamb, chicken, and pork before I found out that my closest store didn’t sell it. I looked at dead animal flesh for nothing!
Clearly, I’m not the target market for the Beyond Burger, but my meat-eating friend is. I asked, if she was at a backyard BBQ and given the choice of a regular beef burger or a Beyond Burger, which would she choose? Beef, she said, because it’s “juicier.” She’s already accustomed to its taste, and if they’ve already been purchased, she wouldn’t feel guilty about eating one. If she had to bring burgers to a party with a lot of vegetarians, and the price point was the same, she’d consider the Beyond Burger.
For others intrigued by these developments, there’s another meat alternative on the horizon. Scientists have been working to create a meat that’s both cruelty-free and less harmful to the environment. They’ve been able to grow meat in a lab since 2013, but it’s not commercially available — yet. The thought is that commercial “clean beef” could be available to the mass market in a few years.
In the meantime, if the Beyond Burger takes over the fast food industry, I’m all for it. The less meat humans consume, the better. Is it likely that I’ll become more confused and suspicious when eating a veggie burger? Probably. But if that’s the price I have to pay for fewer meat-eaters in the world, so be it.