So, I’ve been wanting to try this whole fake meat thing. Out of curiosity. I’m definately NOT a vegetarian. I like meat. I like steaks, and roast, and hamburgers, and prime rib, I smoke pork shoulder and ribs, and then there’s rack of lamb and… you get the idea. I like meat.
But I’m not blind to the problem with meat. It is fantastically resource intensive. Cow farts are widely reported to comprise as much as 15% of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions. Meat production, particularly beef, requires massive amounts of land and water.
This Article at agweb.com shows our beef consumption has been steadily falling for years, but the trendline shows that beef consumption has shifted to chicken, and chicken production has its own pile of problems.
So I’ve been keenly interested in fake meat products that have been in the news. I’m not talking necessarily about the lab grown burger that cost $300,000 to make that hit the news a couple of years ago. No. That’s not fake meat. It’s meat grown in a petri dish using bioengineered bacteria. It’s also not widely available – yet.
I’m talking about recent meat alternative products like the Impossible Burger and the Beyond Burger. These products are made from protein extracted from things like peas and have only recently become available in my area, so when I saw the Beyond Burger was available at my local Kroger, I went to try one out.
But they were sold out.
So I went again the next week. Sold out again. Something must be up with these things.
Third time was the charm, though and I scored a two pack of Beyond Meat Burger patties for $5.99. That works out to $12 a pound, which is about what I usually pay for USDA Choice Ribeye when it’s on sale. So this stuff is pricey. Comparable 90% lean ground beef usually runs ~$7.50 a pound, and the cheap stuff is just $3.29. So they have long way to go on the value side.
Now, since this is supposed to be a meat replacement, not a pithy veggie burger, I read the package hoping to not see any special prep instructions. Surprisingly, there actually were no special instructions! Thaw it out if it came frozen. Keep it refrigerated. Cook on a hot skillet or grill three minutes to a side. Prepare and eat it within ten days of thawing. That’s pretty much exactly how you handle ground beef. Sweet!
So, I thawed one of the patties out. The raw patty had a color and texture very much like lean ground beef. But it did smell weird. Almost moldy. But, I figure it’s a chemical concoction. The end product matters, not the start. So I kept going. I seasoned it with salt and pepper, and threw it in the skillet with a bit of olive oil. While it sizzled I took a look at the back of the package.
The nutrition information was encouraging. No cholesterol, lots of protein. The fats are all saturated though, which isn’t ideal, but it’s better than having a pile of cholesterol in there. And they used beet juice instead of food coloring. Clever.
As the patty cooked, the odd smell went away and was replaced with a very beefy smell, much like a real burger.
After flipping the patty, I was greeted with a surface that had browned very much like a real burger would have. The mess in the middle in the photo is where it stuck to the pan. Much like a real burger. It continued to sizzle for another three or four minutes, and then I built the burger.
Standard fare here. Toasted bun, green leafy lettuce, fresh tomato, red onion, a slice of American cheese, and dressed with Miracle Whip.
Time to take a bite:
So you can see the inside looks like a rare hamburger. Nothing that wasn’t touching the pan browned. It was up to temp, so maybe this is a way to get Vegans to grow accustomed to rare and medium rare?
The texture was exactly like a burger made from super lean ground beef. The flavor was – like a hamburger. Not exactly, but close enough. When I cook the second patty, I’ll probably use a bit more salt and pepper. As I sit here typing this, though, I do have a hint in my sinuses of that odd smell from the raw product. I don’t know if it’s stuck in my sniffer from before I cooked it or if it came with the cooked burger, but I didn’t notice it while I was eating. And I’ve burped a few times since I ate and haven’t caught a whiff of it from that, so I’m thinking it’s just leftover from earlier.
The verdict? If I hadn’t cooked it myself, I’m not sure I would have been able to tell this was a fake burger. And that’s encouraging. Not because I’m going to switch to these. They’re too damn expensive. But hopefully the price will come down, and here’s where I think it’s going make the biggest impact:
This product was absolutely superior to the meat product used in hamburgers at McDonald’s. Full stop. No question about it. McDonald’s could substitute this product for their patties and almost nobody would notice except to notice they tasted like beef again instead of dried shoe leather.
McDonald’s consumes five million head of cattle each year to make their crap-ass dried out hamburger patties. If these meat substitutes can scale up and get the cost at or below that of actual beef, it would be a boon for fast food outlets to switch to them. The product is healthier than real beef and could actually make a dent in the country’s obesity problem, and it could have a dramatic effect on underserved populations in food desert areas that don’t have access to healthy food outside of fast food joints. And as I just demonstrated, it’s handled and prepared exactly the same way. They wouldn’t have to change anything in their supply chain or modify the equipment in their stores to switch. That’s a big deal.
Is this product less resource intensive to make? I have no idea.
Will I buy this particular product again? Probably not. It’s too expensive, and if I’m cooking at home I want the real thing. But if I walked into a McDonald’s or a Wendy’s and I could order this patty on a burger at close to the same prices as their normal beef patties, I would do it in a heartbeat. I will keep an eye out for the Impossible Burger when it shows up around here and I’ll try that one, too. Maybe they’ll have that odd smell figured out.