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Are Vegan Burgers Worth the Hype?

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Love Wholesome contributor Jo-ann Huang samples some popular vegan burger brands found in supermarkets.

Consumers the world over are embracing a plant-based diet for a myriad of reasons, from health to animal welfare and environmentalism. But for Singapore’s savvy foodies, a life of boring salads is unlikely to appeal.

Some meat-free alternatives have popped up in recent years, such as California’s Impossible Burger, which made its debut in some restaurants in Singapore in March. The Impossible Burger has won over many meat eaters but unfortunately has yet to be sold in supermarkets, so I haven’t had the chance to try it. I have noticed others on the shelves, though, and as a committed carnivore, I’m more than a little sceptical about the claim that they can replace real meat.

There are other issues to consider, too. Vegan burgers are also not as healthy as they appear – to simulate the umami taste of meat, manufacturers often pile on mysterious additives and enhancers. A veggie burger can also contain as much as 500 milligrams of salt, which is a third of the recommended daily sodium intake. It’s also worth keeping in mind that these burgers are often served with a stack of condiments and toppings – sometimes to mask an imbalance in taste – and these will boost sodium levels even further. And if you’re allergic to soy protein, which is a common ingredient in mock-meats, then most faux-meat burgers are likely to be off the table completely.

Nevertheless, to see if my scepticism was justified, I recently embarked on a taste test. I tried four international brands of vegan burgers that are sold in supermarkets in Singapore. To get the authentic taste, I ate them without a bun or any added sauces (to me, a quality beef burger can be eaten on its own).

How did these popular brands fare? Could they entice hardcore meat eaters to give up beef burgers for good? Read on…

Beyond Burger

S$14.30 per package. Available on Lazada.

At about S$7.15 per 113 gram patty, Beyond Meat’s Beyond Burger was the most expensive out of the four brands I tried. The California-based company has received rave reviews from foodies and critics for having the most meat-like vegan burger patty on the market – it even bleeds like a beef burger, thanks to the beetroot component. And unlike many vegan burgers, it’s made with pea protein instead of soy protein.

Verdict: I undercooked it slightly, as instructed on the back of the box. The result? It rated the worst in this taste test – it had a smell reminiscent of canned dog food, and I couldn’t seem to make out any distinct taste. It was too soft and crumbly, and its weak structure would not hold up well with burger buns and toppings.

Despite the glorious reviews – even Bill Gates has endorsed Beyond Meat – I thought I was the only one who felt this way. But after trawling online forums, I realised I wasn’t alone. This Reddit thread is proof that to some, Beyond Burger tastes like cat food.

Rating: 1/5. You’ll either love it or hate it.

Amy’s All American Veggie Burger

Source: Amy’s

S$12 per box. Available at NTUC Finest and Lazada.

Also a Californian brand, Amy’s tries to tug at the heartstrings of Americans without giving them a heart attack. The family-owned company claims to offer vegan meat alternatives that taste just as good on a barbecue as a regular burger. It has a full range of organic mock-meats on top of burgers, such as meatballs and even meatloaf. However, be aware that they contain common allergens like soy, wheat and nuts.

Verdict: This burger hardly tastes or feels like meat. Not that it’s necessarily bad – actually, it’s rather tasty, and with four patties in a 290 gram box, it’s also quite a bit cheaper than a Beyond Burger. It tastes like a Middle-Eastern falafel, which are fritters made out of chickpeas. Would I eat it as a replacement to beef burgers? No. But if I ran out of minced beef and this veggie burger was the only thing in the freezer? Yes, I would fry it up and eat it in a sandwich.

Rating: 3/5. Good for an afternoon snack, not a beef burger replacement.

Linda McCartney’s Vegetarian and Mozzarella Quarter Pound Burgers

S$5.90 per box. Available at Lazada.

The late Linda McCartney, wife of Beatle Sir Paul McCartney, launched a meat-free line in 1991. While its UK-made products are mostly vegan, it has a quarter pounder burger with cubes of mozzarella cheese that looks perfect for meat-eaters who want to embrace vegetarianism slowly.

Verdict: While it isn’t truly vegan, this burger is the tastiest of the lot. It’s juicy and tastes like a well-seasoned chicken burger. It isn’t too salty or too artificial-tasting. The mozzarella gives it a complex flavour. The burger is also thick enough to retain its succulence. With such positive results, I am curious to test how its fully vegan range tastes. A box comes with two burgers at 113 grams each, so it’s also much cheaper than the first two I tested.

Rating: 4/5. Juicy and delicious, it may have hit the veggie burger nail on the head in terms of flavour and texture.

Quorn Burgers

S$6 per box. Available at Cold Storage and Lazada.

Also based in the United Kingdom, Quorn has a complete range of mock meats, from Swedish meatballs to sausages. Quorn’s products contain mycoprotein, which is made through a process of fermentation that employs a fungus called Fusarium venenatum. Mycoprotein production uses 90 percent less land and water than livestock farming, making it a sustainable protein source for the long-term (or at least, so claims Quorn).

Verdict: A box of Quorn’s burgers contains six 50-gram patties, making them significantly smaller but also more affordable than the rest of the burgers in this taste test. They have a mild chickpea-like flavour, but the extremely dry texture lets the product down. This burger needs lots of ketchup and mustard to make up for the dryness, which is not going to be particularly healthy.

Rating: 2/5. Only slightly less vile than Beyond Burgers.

Finally: will vegan burgers stand a chance in a meat-eaters’ diet?

Vegan burgers still have a long way to go when it comes to simulating the taste of meat, let alone doing it at a price point accessible to most consumers. For instance, Beyond Burger, which is the most realistic mock-beef burger patty sold in supermarkets now, costs twice as much as grass-fed premium mince beef. So while this vegan burger may be all the rage, it will definitely be a while before it goes mainstream.

That said, we can do our part in helping the environment by consuming less meat and eating more vegetables. Livestock farming is resource-intensive and a major contributor to global warming. And as the world’s population increases and resources become more scarce, our current rate of meat consumption is unlikely to be sustainable.

A mushroom or falafel burger doesn’t sound as appetising as a medium-rare beef burger, but if it’s prepared with good-quality ingredients, it can be a healthy yet tasty occasional alternative for meat eaters.

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