Ground beef, in some form, has long been a staple at every greasy spoon diner and most fast food locations across the United States, but is there a new kid on the block getting ready to take the crown? For decades, the allure of an all-beef patty drew millions of hungry customers in to get their burger fixes, but in the early 2000s, fast food locations like Burger King and Five Guys began offering healthier burger options to draw in vegetarian customers. Today, veggie patties are on menus across the country, and now they’re being joined by new fake meat options: the Impossible Burger, made by Impossible Foods, and the Beyond Burger, made by Beyond Meat.
Both are plant-based proteins that look, smell and even somewhat taste like the real thing, but are healthier and have a significantly smaller environmental impact than traditional beef production. While we’re not going to see plant-based proteins take over the restaurant industry overnight, we’re already starting to see how some concepts are using meatless burgers and other meat alternatives to cater to new customers and address growing demand.
Unlike veggie patties which don’t pretend to be meat, these new-age substitutes do their best to mimic everything we like about meat, while still protecting the Earth. Although they probably won’t fool a ton of people, the patties fry up just like their meaty cousins (complete with some “bleeding” and fat dripping) and the burger tastes pretty good!
What is a Plant-Based Protein?
Impossible Burgers are made from soy and potato proteins that are combined with methylcellulose (a binding agent), sunflower and coconut oils, and heme, which gives the meat its signature smell and taste akin to the real thing. The heme that Impossible Foods uses is sourced from soy leghemoglobin and is inserted into genetically engineered yeast. As the yeast ferments, heme, an iron-containing molecule, is created. Beyond Burgers, on the other hand, are made out of pea, mung bean and rice proteins, potato starch, using coconut and canola oils for the fats and beet juice which actually “bleeds” out as you cook the meat.
As you can see, these aren’t exactly the veggie burgers you’re used to, and that might even be a good thing. The protein amounts are similar between the patties and a standard beef burger patty, but they do have higher amounts of fiber. They also contain more sodium than beef, which in a fast food setting can skyrocket a customer’s salt intake. Some health experts also contend that although customers might think they’re choosing a healthier option by going with the plant-based alternative at a restaurant, it could actually be just as bad as if they had gotten the meat version when cheese, sauces, condiments and the bun are thrown in.
Impossible Burgers and Beyond Burgers Take On Fast Food. Impossibly Good or Beyond Belief?
While it’s pretty easy to see why fake meat options like the Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat are popular in the vegan and vegetarian communities, fast food giants are jumping in feet first to cash in on what could be the next big thing. In April 2019, Burger King launched its Impossible Whopper in St. Louis and, according to the company, boosted foot traffic at locations in that city by close to 17%. The results were vastly better than traffic numbers at Burger King locations across the country, which actually fell by more than one percent across the same month, and prompted the chain to announce that the Impossible Whopper would be sold nationwide by the end of the year.
Other major chains have also taken the leap into experimenting with meat substitutes, and have seen a similar amount of success. White Castle has been offering its Impossible Sliders as a vegan burger topped with pickles (no cheese for a truly vegan experience), and Carl’s Jr. launched the Beyond Famous Star earlier this year using Beyond Meat as its replacement for the standard beef burger. Even pizza places like Little Caesars and taco shops, including Qdoba and Del Taco are using Impossible and Beyond meats, respectively, to recreate the sizzle that real meat creates.
But the question still remains; do burger patties and other meat products made from soy protein, peas, and sunflower oil have the same appeal as the products meat eaters are used to? The short answer seems to be a resounding yes, as reports suggest the alternative meat industry could explode from $14 billion this year to more than $140 billion in only one decade. It’s a huge number, but people shouldn’t have to worry about their favorite burgers and tacos being replaced with plants any time soon. Even with the expected growth, meat alternatives are still only to have about 1/10th of the meat industry’s total sales.
Restaurants that jump on this trend early may be setting themselves up for sustained success, especially with the industry primed to surge over the next few years. Larger fast food and casual dining concepts are also striving to get more vegan and vegetarian options added to their menus, even in the face of an alternative meat shortage. Moves like these provide consumers with more options and cater to customers that have largely been overlooked until fairly recently.
However, Rome wasn’t built in a day and many restaurants are still feeling out the situation. If you’re looking to get your veggie-fueled burger fix now or are simply curious about what could be the next big thing in food tastes like, picking up a few patties at the grocery store will likely be your best option, so get out and get cooking!
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