There are two types of vegans. Those who have no need to taste meat ever again, and those who want to experience the taste and texture of meat without harming the animals. To make the second group happy, culinary science went from ordinary — using beans, soy, wheat, and other ingredients, (some of which are extremely overprocessed and unhealthy), to pretty strange — growing meat in the lab.
Now there is something new available: a plant burger that “bleeds.” It is, of course, not real blood but beet juice. And the red stuff in actual meat is a mixture of water and myoglobin, a red colored protein that helps to ship oxygen to the muscle cells.
But the main point remains: these burgers were created to imitate the taste and the texture of meat, and the “juice” is part of the experience.
One of the main reasons for these creations, besides the taste, is sustainability — because meat generally requires significantly more resources than plants, the research has shown the being vegan, or at least eating a more plant-based diet, is better for the future of the planet.
The burgers are currently made by two companies: Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods.
Beyond Meat: Available in Your Supermarket
Beyond Meat products, founded in Los Angeles and are U.S.-made, can be purchased in stores, especially Whole Foods, although not in every U.S. state (and are also available online). The company is funded by big organizations including Twitter’s co-founders, Bill Gates (word of warning: he is notoriously pro-GMO), and the Humane Society.
Most reviewers found the burgers fantastic:
“They cook like a dream…with a tiny bit of oil…The taste is great and it holds up really well to cooking.” by Jo Potocki
While others thought they were merely okay:
“These are edible but I don’t think they live up to all the hype…” by amazonnance
Impossible Burger: Available in Selective Restaurants
Impossible Foods is another start-up company out of California, founded by Dr. Patrick O. Brown. Right now, their food is only available at selected restaurants in the U.S.
The idea behind the company was to find out which nutrients make meat taste like meat, then replicate it with plant-based ingredients.
The company uses a secret ingredient called “heme,” a building block in animal muscle, but also in plants. In this case, it is extracted from roots of legume plants.
Their products are 100% vegan but do contain two possible allergens: soy and wheat.
Are These Burgers Actually Healthy?
These burgers instantly win when compared to other faux-meat brands such as Morning Star that adds toxic additives such as disodium guanylate to their products, but are they truly healthy?
Beyond Meat also claims to be free of gluten, GMOs, and antibiotics.
The Beyond Burger ingredients are pea protein isolate, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil, water, yeast extract, maltodextrin, natural flavors, gum arabic, sunflower oil, salt, succinic acid, acetic acid, non-GMO modified food starch, cellulose from bamboo, methylcellulose, potato starch, beet juice extract (for color), ascorbic acid (to maintain color), annatto extract (for color), citrus fruit extract (to maintain quality), vegetable glycerin.
Other Beyond Meat products such as Beyond Chicken contain soy protein isolate, and although it is non-GMO, it is an industrial waste product. It is generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA, but has not been re-evaluated since 1979. Eating too much soy especially non-fermented, can have considerable negative health effects you may want to research before consuming in large quantities.
Beyond Meat Burger is made from pea protein isolate, which is a healthier soy substitute.
There are a few minor concerns with other ingredients.
Expeller-pressed canola oil is not labeled as non-GMO, and may be genetically modified (over 90% of it on the market is GMO). It is also one of the least healthy oils on the market and ideally should not be used in food. It contains a large amount of erucic acid, which is known to cause health problems. It is also a refined oil that may go rancid when stored in warehouses for large amounts of time, as it often is when used in processed food. Potential negative health effects over time are kidney and liver problems, heart issues, and hypertension.
Refined coconut oil is an oil that is bleached and deodorized. It also may be hydrogenated, which means it contains unhealthy fats. Ideally, it would have been better if the company used unrefined coconut oil.
Yeast extract is often used as another name for MSG. Since many studies came out showing that monosodium glutamate is unhealthy, companies are now using a few dozens of names to hide MSG. (Read: Hidden MSG names)
Maltodextrin is a type of sugar and is often made from GMO corn.
Natural flavors are one of the trickiest ingredients out there, as it also can hide MSG, but also may be made from non-vegan sources.
While Beyond Meat states that all of their ingredients are non-GMO, one has to wonder as to why in the ingredients they clarified that some ingredients are non-GMO, while other ingredients have no clarification.
The Impossible Burger: Ingredient Overview
When it comes to the Impossible Burger, the ingredients are the following: water, textured wheat protein, coconut oil, potato protein, natural flavors, 2% or less of: leghemoglobin (heme protein), yeast extract, salt, soy protein isolate, konjac gum, xanthan gum, thiamin (vitamin B1), zinc, niacin, vitamin B6, riboflavin (vitamin B2), vitamin B12.
The main issue with the list is soy protein isolate. Soy is almost always GMO, a common allergen, and usually not healthy in large amounts. Like mentioned above, its safety has not been re-evaluated since 1979.
Just like with Beyond Meat, this burger contains yeast extract and natural favors, a potential MSG.
Textured wheat protein is also not good for anyone with wheat allergies or gluten sensitivity.
It is also questionable if the burger’s added vitamins are derived from natural or synthetic sources. Synthetic vitamins are generally not healthy.
Final Word: Making Burgers Better with Plants
Even if it is possible to make a completely healthy plant-based burger that tastes and “bleeds” like meat, many people are wondering: why? There is a movement of chefs and foodies who are working to make plant burgers that taste better than meat, instead of being focused on making a plant burger that tastes just like meat.
One good example is the Superiority Burger by New York chef Brooks Headley. His burger is made of quinoa, and many say it tastes better than meat, which was the chef’s goal. He was not working on creating a meat substitute, and instead he simply focused on making an exceptionally tasty burger without using meat.
In the words of one food critic: “The problem is that the new alternatives are…essentially ‘slightly better Tofurkey.’ So why bother? …Why kill yourself to produce a not-quite-rubber burger? Why not just make something new?”