If your weekend routine involves a cold beer paired with a juicy burger, you can really suffer during Lent.
The faithful are supposed to abstain from meat on Fridays from Ash Wednesday through Easter Sunday. Yet sometimes, to borrow a favorite phrase from the movie “About a Boy,” couldn’t you just muuurder a Big Mac or a more upscale version of a double stack?
Well, actually, you can during this season of reflection and preparation — both out on the town and also if you want to cook it yourself at home.
Faux-meat burgers have become so mainstream that you can now get them at restaurants ranging from Burger King (which serves the Impossible Burger) to your neighborhood Denny’s (which boasts the Beyond Burger). Even McDonald’s — the largest fast-food restaurant in the world — is testing a plant-based burger in Canada, with hopes of bringing it to the U.S. sometime soon.
At least five national brands are now offering plant-based burgers in refrigerated cases at your local grocery store. Some are decidedly Franken-meat, made with a long list of ingredients that aren’t instantly recognizable (what’s pea protein or carrageenan?) while others go low-tech with whole grains and vegetables.
All like to proudly point out they’ve got just as much protein as a regular hamburger and steer clear of GMOs.
People are more worried about their health than ever, after all, but I’m guessing the companies also have to justify why their faux meat cost so much more than the real deal — usually around $3 per quarter-pound patty, compared to $3.89 for a pound of 80/20 beef blend.
We decided to try them all, and after an unscientific blind taste test, relay how they stack up. We threw a undressed Impossible Burger from Burger King into the mix, knowing it would be instantly recognizably for its distinctive smoky, charbroil taste.
I cooked them on the stove at home, following the package instructions to the T with a kitchen timer, then reheated them briefly in the lunchroom microwave at the office.
The burgers were served completely naked on plain white buns. Heinz ketchup was offered to my seven tasters — mostly vegetarians from the art department — with a mandate: if you’re going to use it, make sure you spread it on every burger so none gets an unfair flavor boost.
A cooking note: None of them smelled particularly good in their packaging — I couldn’t put my finger on the aroma but it was definitely funky — and it only got marginally better as the burgers cooked, filling my kitchen with a vaguely grainy, something’s toasting aroma. Let’s just say you’re not going to pull one over on anyone if you try to serve a plant-based burger on the sly.
The Beyond Burger tends to get the most props from seasoned faux meat eaters because it was the first meatless burger to hit the market, back in 2016. Crafted with pea protein isolate and expeller-pressed canola and coconut oils, the faux meat not only sizzled like regular ground beef but also “bled” juices like the real thing — thanks to the addition of beet extract.
The Sweet Earth Awesome Burger, which contains wheat, was the only burger that required cooking oil in the pan. Maybe that’s why it looked like a slice of fried Spam when it was done. The Lifelight burger took the longest to prepare (14 minutes) and released no “juices,” though it had some caramelization.
Made with three different forms of mushrooms, Field Roast’s FieldBurger looked the least like a burger — the raw mix was a weird orange color and you could see individual grains of barley and carrot. It also failed to sizzle in the pan.
Here’s what our tasters thought about the five burgers. They’re ranked from most to least favorite in four categories: Aroma, texture, taste and overall impression.
Of course, these burgers are not just a tasty meat-alternative option during Lent. Anyone looking to eat more plants or to generally give meat a rest may want to give them a try. Just be sure to offer ketchup.
1. Beyond Burger
Price: $5.99 for 2 ¼-pound patties.
Ingredients (18): Water, pea protein isolate, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil, rice protein, natural flavors, cocoa butter, mung bean protein, methylcellulose, potato starch, apple extract, salt, potassium chloride, vinegar. lemon juice concentrate, sunflower lecithin, pomegranate fruit powder, beet extract.
Claim to fame: “Marbling that melts and tenderizes for an even meatier, juicier burger.”
What tasters thought: Not surprisingly, this burger got the highest marks. It actually tastes kind of meaty, and even looks to be marbled with fat, thanks to the addition of coconut oil and cocoa butter. Comments included “Good burger taste.” “My favorite! Could fool any meat eater.” “I’d buy it. I like it.”
2. Lifelight Plant-based Burger
Price: $5.99 for 2 ¼-pound patties.
Ingredients (14): Water, pea protein, expeller pressed canola oil, modified corn starch, modified cellulose, yeast extract, virgin coconut oil, sea salt, natural flavor, beet powder, ascorbic acid, onion extract, onion powder, garlic powder.
Claim to fame: “It will fill you up without weighing you down.”
What tasters thought: This soy- and GMO-free burger tied for second place, cooking up firm and crispy. “My fave,” one colleague exclaimed. “Very good,” noted another. But some found it “almost sweet”” and “too dry,” with a “gummy texture.” The boldest assessment: “Don’t like it. Too weird.”
2. Impossible Burger
Price: $8.99 for a 12-ounce package.
Ingredients (20): Water, soy protein concentrate, coconut oil, sunflower oil, potato protein, methylcellulose, yeast extract, cultured dextrose, food starch-modified, soy leghemoglobin, salt, soy protein isolate, mixed tocopherols (vitamin E), zinc gluconate, thiamine hydrochloride, sodium ascorbate, niacin, pyridoxine hydrochloride, riboflavin, vitamin B12.
Claim to fame: “Cooks like ground beef.”
What tasters thought: Given this burger was imbued with Burger King’s smoky, charbroiled flavor, no surprises here that the Impossible Burger tied for second. (“Tastes like a fast-food burger,” one taster noted.) Yet we concede, it’s hard to know what it would have tasted like cooked on a stove. Comments included “Overall great!” and “Tastes like it was right off the grill.” But not everyone was impressed. One taster dubbed it, “Blah, bland and chewy,” while another proclaimed “Second favorite, but I wouldn’t buy it.”
3. Sweet Earth Awesome Burger
Price: $6.99 for 2 ¼-pound burgers.
Ingredients (18): Water, textured pea protein, coconut oil, wheat gluten, canola oil, methylcellulose, natural flavors, distilled vinegar, fruit and vegetable juice concentrate, dried malted barley extract, dried vinegar, cultured corn starch, sea salt, salt, ascorbic acid, thiamine, hydrochloride, potassium chloride
Claim to fame: “Totally juicy, groovy for grilling.”
What tasters thought: Only one person gave this non-GMO burger high marks for its “better flavor.” Five of the seven tasters said it tasted like a hot dog. It also got poor marks for mouthfeel. “Strange and gummy texture with an odd taste.” “Weird red look,” noted another
4. Field Roast Field Burger
Price: $8.99 for 4 3¼-ounce patties.
Ingredients (23): Vital wheat gluten, filtered water, organic expeller pressed palm fruit oil, barley, garlic, expeller pressed safflower oil, onions, tomato paste, celery, carrots, naturally flavored yeast extract, onion powder, mushrooms, barley malt, sea salt, spices, Irish moss sea vegetable extract, celery seed, balsamic vinegar, black pepper, shiitake mushrooms, porcini mushroom powder, yellow pea flour.
Claim to fame: “Simply made from grains and vegetables.”
What tasters thought: I mean, is this really a faux meat burger or simply a veggie burger? “Don’t like it. Something’s off,” a colleague said. “Tastes different, almost tomato-y,” someone commented. “Ketchupy,” agreed another. Also: “Very difficult taste.” But there’s always an outlier — one taster rated it the best of the bunch.