More than a year ago, I wrote about plant-based meat substitutes; a lot has happened since then. There are new players, including some large meat producers. The Covid-19 pandemic revealed weaknesses in the food supply chain and some ugly truths about meat production. So, it’s time to revisit the subject; this time I tasted and compared five brands of meatless patties.
In October, I attended a webinar on the subject. One speaker represented the Good Food Institute, a think tank that promotes sustainability in the “meat” industry through research, education, start-up support, and advocacy. The other four participants represented Beyond Meat, Impossible, Planterra (Ozo brand), and a newcomer whose product isn’t yet available, Meati Foods.
The general take-away from the meeting was a surprise. These companies’ target market is meat-eaters, not vegetarians as you might guess. Global industrial meat production uses land that could otherwise grow plant proteins, produces a significant amount of methane, and accounts for about a third of all agricultural water usage. The bottom line is this: it is less efficient, more expensive, and worse for the environment to raise meat than to grow plants. Because vegetarians and vegans already don’t eat meat, the only way to reduce meat production is to encourage meat-eaters to eat less.
Flexitarian is the new buzzword. Unlike vegetarianism, the flexitarian diet doesn’t eliminate any category of food; it encourages less consumption of meat and increased consumption of fruits, vegetables, and grains. The goal is two-fold. One, eat less meat at each meal; reduce portion sizes, which often are too large to be healthy anyway, and bulk up the rest of the meal with more plants. Two, replace one or two meat meals a week with vegetarian options. This is where plant-based meat substitutes come in. These companies believe that encouraging meat-eaters to eat a plant-based burger that tastes like meat will be easier than getting them to eat more traditional vegetarian options, that may taste good, but not like meat.
The bonus for kosher keepers is the opportunity to expand our at-home menus with dishes that simulate inherently trayf (non-kosher) meals, like cheeseburgers, pepperoni pizza, lasagna, and chicken parmesan.
Last year, I talked about Rabbi Yosef Wikler, long-time editor of Kashrus Magazine. He told my husband years ago, “Kashrut is not a punishment. There is midrash that says for every flavor prohibited by kashrus, one will be provided.” I met Rabbi Wikler at Kosherfest 2019 and he confirmed the statement.
I did a personal tasting, comparing five brands. Beyond Burger and Impossible are most well-known and widely available. Kroger is on the bandwagon, with the Simple Truth Emerge burger. Ozo brand, produced by Planterra, is not available in any local stores yet; I ordered it online. The last brand is Very Good Butchers, who make a more traditional, less processed veggie burger that includes beans and mushrooms; their products also are available only online.
Four of the five are based on pea protein; Impossible is made primarily from soy, something to consider for women with certain types of breast cancer or other medical sensitivities to soy. Nutritionally, they are similar to one another. Calories range from 210 to 270 per burger, compared to about 290 for regular 80/20 ground beef. They contain between 10 and 18 grams of fat, compared to 23 grams for beef. Sodium ranges from 350 to 400 grams, which is much higher than beef at about 70 grams, even if you consider that kosher meat contains more sodium than non-kosher because of salt used in the kashering process. Plant-based burgers contain carbs too, ranging from a low of 5 to a high of 23; real meat doesn’t have any carbohydrates. Protein content is similar between the vegetarian brands and real meat – about 20 grams per serving.
What about cost? It’s no surprise that the plant-based burgers cost more; some a lot more. You can get unbranded non-kosher 80/20 ground beef for $4.99/pound at Kroger. Organic is $5.99/pound; Meal Mart kosher ground beef is $8.99/pound.
In contrast, the plant-based versions run from the low of $7.98/pound (Simple Truth Kroger brand) to the most expensive Impossible burger at $13.98/ pound. During the webinar, the representative from Beyond Meat offered that the initial investments in R&D and start-up costs make their products more expensive – for now – but they are committed to have at least one product priced less than traditional meat within four years. The others concurred.
So how do they taste? All in all, pretty good. Beyond Burger tastes most like real meat; it has an authentic grilled flavor that is quite delicious – I think even the most hard-core meat eater would enjoy it. Impossible and Ozo look like fast food patties, but they taste good and have a meaty texture. The Simple Truth patty stuck to the pan; it doesn’t really look like meat and has a slightly grainy texture, but my husband ranked it third behind Beyond and Impossible. Very Good Butcher’s patty is a little soft. It doesn’t taste like meat at all; I liked it, but my husband didn’t. However, last week we sampled the Very Good Butcher taco filling and it was, by far, the best meat substitute taco filling we’ve ever had – a huge win with my family!
This week’s recipe for Beautiful Burger Buns couldn’t be easier; I mixed it by hand in a bowl. The resulting buns were excellent, but because I made them with butter, my husband is disappointed that he can’t have a chicken sandwich today. Replace the butter with oil to keep them parve.
Beautiful Burger Buns (D)
Makes about 8 buns or 24 slider buns
This recipe uses butter, rendering these “burger” buns dairy, which is fine for a plant-based or veggie burger. To make them parve, replace the butter with an equal amount of extra virgin olive oil.
From KingArthurBaking dot com, where you will find other notes about the recipe.
3½ C all-purpose flour
¼ C sugar
1¼ tsp salt
1 TBSP instant yeast
¾ to 1 C lukewarm water
(less in summer or humidity; more in winter or drier environment)
2 TBSP butter, room temperature
1 large egg
Plus 3 TBSP butter, melted for brushing
1.In a medium bowl, mix dry ingredients together so sugar, salt & yeast are distributed throughout.
2.Add water, egg & butter. Starting with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon, mix ingredients together until most of flour is incorporated.
3.Switch to using your hands; incorporate all the flour until you have a smooth ball of dough.
4.Leave dough in the bowl, cover & let rise for 1 to 2 hours or until doubled in bulk.
5.Gently deflate dough; divide into 8 pieces. Shape each piece into a ball; flatten to about 3 inches across. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet; cover & let rise for about an hour, until rolls become puffy.
6.Before baking, brush tops with melted butter.
7.Bake in oven preheated to 375° for 15 to 18 minutes, until golden.
8.Remove from oven & brush with remaining butter. Remove from baking sheet to a rack to cool.
If you have questions about food, email Gayle at food@americanisraelite. com.