Your browser is out of date. It may not display all features of this websites. We recommend to use one of these browsers or versions Mozila Firefox or Google Chrome

Connect
To Top

Plant-based burger challenge

Demand for plant-based meat is fast on the up. KTCHNrebel finds out how three of the market leading burgers stack up.

New research has found that avoiding meat is one of the biggest things an individual can do to reduce their personal environmental impact, but not everyone can face the prospect of life without the sizzle of a juicy burger on the barbeque, blood oozing out after that first satisfying bite.

A growing cohort of food tech start-ups, including Beyond Meat, Impossible Foods and Moving Mountains, have been working away in their labs to make sure they don’t have to.

Market overview of Plant based burgers / and vegan burgers

The market for plant-based meat substitutes is fast on the up / Image: Impossible Foods

Their vegan burgers are made up of a combination of plant-based proteins and unexpected ingredients that mimic the flavour, texture – and even bloodiness – of real meat.

But while they may look, smell, taste and even sizzle like the real thing, they’re produced with a fraction of the negative environmental impact that comes from farming livestock, a process that’s recently been shown to provide only 18% of calories and 37% of protein while using the vast majority – 83% – of farmland and producing 60% of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Burger: taste-testing

For this reason, the market for plant-based meat substitutes is fast on the up, leaping 24% in the last year, according to the Plant Based Foods Association.

And much of the demand is coming not from vegetarians and vegans, but from carnivores keen to cut down their meat intake due to concerns about the environmental and health impact of their diets.

What is plant-based meat and where to buy it

But let’s get down to the bare bones of the beef-free burger business and find out who sells plant-based meat, where you can buy it and how its three main purveyors stack up in the ingredient department.

Beyond Meat Burger

The main ingredient in the Beyond Burger is pea protein, an extract of yellow peas, which the US-headquartered company currently sources from Canada and France. The burger, which is pink prior to cooking, also contains canola oil, coconut oil and beet juice extract, so it bleeds when you cut it, just like the real thing.

Beyond Burger Raw Patties comaprision

Image: Beyond Meat

Since its debut in 2016, more than 25 million Beyond Burgers have been sold. Along with being available in the meat case at more than 12,000 grocery stores, it is also sold on the menu at more than 11,000 North American restaurants including TGI Fridays, Epic Burger and A&W Canada.

Beyond Meat has also recently expanded into Europe via contracts with three distributors and has had strong interest from European grocery and restaurant chains. It plans to open manufacturing facilities in Europe in 2020 and also has a local distributor in Hong Kong and expects to expand in Asia over time.

Impossible Foods Burgers

Run by a former Stanford University biochemistry professor, Impossible Foods promises that its plant-based burgers look, smell, taste and even sizzle like real beef patties.

Impossible Foods vegan burger test

Plant based burger / Image: Impossible Foods

They are made from: wheat and potato protein, which deliver ‘meaty chew and essential nutrition’, heme, the same molecule that makes meat a great source of iron and also provides its unmistakeable flavour; coconut oil and soy, to give the burger its sizzle; and konjac and xanthan, which bring it all together.

The Impossible Burger is currently available in the US, Hong Kong and Macau and the company is currently focusing on expanding in Asia, as it accounts for 44% of the world’s demand for meat.

Moving Mountains Burger

It took over two years in a lab and more than 100 test-kitchen recipes to create the final formula for UK-based Moving Mountains’ B12 flexitarian burger.

The main ingredients are a base of coconut oil, which provides a fatty satisfying consistency, beetroot juice, which allows a juicy ‘bleed’ at the centre of the patty, a mix of mushroom, wheat and soy proteins to provide a succulent texture, and added Vitamin B12 for extra nutrients.

‘Barely distinguishable’ from a beef burger, the Moving Mountains burger is currently being served up at restaurants across the UK including Harvester, The Alchemist and Ed’s Easy Diner.

Questions of carbon

The key selling point of plant-based meat is that you get the satisfying sizzle of a real burger, while taking a relatively low personal toll on the environment. And both Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods have carried out life cycle assessments to prove it.

While producing a Beyond Burger requires 99% less water, 93% land, 90% fewer greenhouse gas emissions and nearly 50% less energy than a 1/4lb beef burger, one Impossible Burger has been shown to save the equivalent of 75 square feet of land, half a tub of bathwater and 18 miles of emissions in a car, compared to a burger made from cows.

Will Nicholson is a food sustainability expert at the Food Climate Research Network and the Food Foundation, where he heads up the Plating Up Progress project, which aims to define usable metrics for assessing food industry progress in delivering sustainable and healthy diets.

He confirms that the carbon footprint of a plant-based burger will be lower than its meaty equivalent, even if some of the ingredients – such as pea protein – have to be imported and travel thousands of miles before reaching the customer’s plate.

“Fossil fuel transport is problematic but unless these products are being air-freighted, it’s not going to be that big a deal comparatively,” he says. “Your local beef in the US is still going to have a higher carbon footprint than your transported peas.”

Another criticism that’s been levelled at plant-based burgers is that the production processes required to turn plant protein into something that resembles meat are energy-intensive. Nicholson says it’s too early to tell whether this is going to be a problem.

“It’s such a new emerging sector that there are almost an infinite number of viable ways to produce [plant-based meat] and there isn’t really a profile for how energy-intensive the process is,” he explains. “It could be an issue if these products turn out to be incredible energy-intensive to produce at scale, but you can level that argument against an awful lot of processed food that we quite happily guzzle.”

All told, although plant-based burgers may not be as environmentally friendly as a plateful of locally sourced veggies, Nicholson believes there is certainly a role for them within our food system.

“The need for change is sufficiently great that every little bit is going to need to make a contribution,” he concludes. “New dietary guidelines recommend 14g red meat a day and 29g of poultry, which is not a lot. Something’s got to plug that gap and I’d argue that looking at these meat-free alternatives is something we have to accept we’re going to have to do.”

Read part II:

Taste-testing alternative-protein burgers: how do Beyond Meat, Bugfoundation and other patties measure up?

1 Comment

  1. Pingback: Taste-testing alternative-protein burgers | KTCHNrebel

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in Chef's Life

  • My greatest mistake

    Even the greats of the industry don’t always do everything right. Here they tell you about their slip-ups and setbacks, what...

    Bernhard Leitner - Rolling PinFebruary 18, 2019
  • Follow the Food Porn – 25 Best Chefs of Instagram 2019

    Welcome to the Web’s culinary mecca! Instagram lets everyone from hobby cooks to Michelin-starred chefs give their followers a behind-the-scenes look...

    KTCHNrebel Editorial TeamFebruary 11, 2019
  • Aged to perfection

    Tender and delicious! Aging helps bring out the best in pork, beef, goat, and veal. Read on for a quick run-down...

    Kathrin Löffel - Rolling PinFebruary 4, 2019
  • Taste-testing alternative-protein burgers

    More and more people are trying to go meatless for health, environmental, or ethical reasons, but not all of them are...

    Sascha Barby & Daniel KlausJanuary 28, 2019
  • Out-standing steak

    Standing is the new sitting, if these Japanese idea exporters have anything to say about it. Read on to find out...

    Daniela Almer - Rolling PinJanuary 17, 2019
  • Working in Mexico City

    Mexico, land of the Aztecs, has an incredibly diverse landscape, ranging from endless beaches and dense rainforests to massive gorges and...

    Kathrin Löffel - Rolling PinDecember 30, 2018
  • “Chef life has gotten a lot easier”

    Architecture and shopping culture aren’t the only cutting-edge things about Dubai—it’s setting new food and beverage standards as well. Leading the...

    Ilona MarxDecember 21, 2018
  • Off-Road Cooking

    Chef is more than a career—it’s almost like a personal brand. Chefs are food experts, organizational geniuses, artists, and revolutionaries, all...

    Susanne CookNovember 19, 2018
  • Going whole hog

    From nose to tail: a chef with a sense of responsibility is the best thing that can ever happen to a...

    Kathrin Löffel - Rolling PinNovember 16, 2018