We had two vegan dinner guests the other night, so I took advantage of the opportunity to compare and contrast several of the offerings from the fast-expanding world of beef substitutes. These so-called “plant-based burgers” are all the rage, the world having reached a consensus that many of them, at least, have found a way to convincingly simulate ground beef: its look, its texture, its juiciness, its taste.
And yet, no animal products are used in their manufacture—a fact that, supposedly, is good for one’s diet, one’s health, and, since cattle farming is responsible for a good percentage of the methane gas that contributes to global warming, the planet. Cutting back on beef production also makes more efficient use of arable land and of available sources of fresh water.
Depending on the brand, the ingredients lists of these products can feature such things as pea protein, mung beans, soy, and beets. Put them all together, though, and they spell burger satisfaction. Or do they?
I prepared patties from three different manufacturers: Impossible, which stunned the world when Burger King chose it as a regular item on their menu; Beyond Burger, consistently considered a worthy contender for Impossible’s primacy; and Nothingburger, which a lot of people may have heard about but, which, really, isn’t very important.
How did they stack up?
The Impossible patties are slightly redder in color than the grayer Beyond Burgers.
The Nothingburger is shaped kind of like a patty, I guess, and has some color, if you look at it.
To the eye, the Impossible burger had a fine-grained, almost liverwurst-like texture. It was flecked with white specks of coconut oil. The Beyond Burger was slightly coarser in texture and, therefore, a little more beef-like in appearance. When cooked, the Impossible was slightly meatier in its “mouthfeel,” but the Beyond was comparable.
The Nothingburger, which some people purport to be so excited about, doesn’t have much texture or anything. The company’s advertising touts it as “the greatest, most delicious plant-based meat substitute in the universe,” but it really isn’t.
ON THE GRILL
Both the Impossible and the Beyond Burger patties hit the grill with a satisfying sizzle. The Impossible seemed to exude a slightly redder “juice,” but both acquired a beef-like “char” when cooked on one side for about three minutes. This—the creation of a smashburger-like “crust”—is highly recommended for these faux burgers, to increase the opportunity for the so-called Maillard effect, in which sugars exposed to high heat undergo complex transformations and boost flavor.
The Nothingburger just kind of cooked. No amount of charring, smashing, crusting, or hitting it with a hammer would have helped. As for the advantages bestowed by the Maillard effect, forget it. I really didn’t, and don’t, know what all the fuss is about with these things.
Both the Impossible and the Beyond Burger were pretty good, and certainly more beef-like than I had expected. The Impossible retained a bit more red color in its interior. Either makes an admirable vehicle for the transmission of ketchup, tomato, onion, lettuce, cheese, etc.
In terms of taste, the Nothingburger was notably meh. Perhaps the company’s guiding philosophy is “Do no harm. In fact, do nothing.” The firm has announced a line of Nothingburger ancillary products, including Nonrolls, Nullketchup, Nadacheese, and Notremotelybacon, all of which, I expect, will prove to be as anti-climactic and fundamentally insignificant as its flagship product. There is also talk of the company exploring the creation of Nothingpork, Nothingchicken, and Nothingveal, all of which will presumably be hyped to a fare-thee-well and none of which, when you get down to it in the real world, will be worth anyone’s attention.