It is amazing to see just how “hot” plant based burgers are right now. It is difficult to spend any time reading food related websites without coming across a reference to either the Impossible Foods or Beyond Meat products. It is a long way from non-meat burgers being sad patties of soy protein, black beans, and some spices on the bottom shelf of the freezer section at your local natural foods store.
Take the Don Lee Farms organic plant based burger:
I picked up this particular package from my nearest Costco. The Costco connection is interesting because apparently the company sold more than a million patties in just 60 days earlier this year. [http://www.cookinglight.com/news/costco-sold-more-than-one-million-plant-based-don-lee-burgers] Now, I do not know if that is a truly gangbusters number for Costco where mayonnaise is sold in literal buckets.
Naturally I felt the urge to try out this new entrant. A package of ten frozen patties cost about $11, which is a far sight cheaper than the Beyond Burger. The cheapest Beyond Burger was on special at my local coop for $4.99 for two patties. In terms of value the Don Lee Farms product was running away with things.
It is suggested that the patties be cooked from frozen, so I fired up the grill and got to cooking:
The babies cook up fast. Like a couple of minutes per side and the internal temperature was already in the 150 degree Fahrenheit range. The patties also got a little crispy around the edges really fast. Faster than the Beyond Burger and definitely faster than a regular old grass fed beef patty. As the Don Lee Farms burgers were cooking I noticed a distinct lack of oils or fats which is a departure from the Beyond Burger. It seemed more in line with more traditional veggie burgers from the 1990s. Ooooh the 1990s when ordering a plant based burger seemed subversive.
The result is mixed:
The Don Lee Farms plant based burger was better than any regular non meat alternative patty, but I think it falls short of the Beyond Burger. It’s a texture thing more than anything else and I kept getting hints of crunchy vegetables from the patty that I could not shake. Granted, a hamburger is generally a vehicle for a lot of other flavors so when you load your burger down with an onion slide, grilled pineapple, American cheese, and Miracle Whip there is a lot going on for your taste buds to process.
Here’s the thing, we have entered into the “uncanny valley” with plant based burgers. Each iteration is getting closer to the real thing, but a few components or our own perception is off just enough to throw the whole thing for a loop. It was easier when you were eating a hockey puck of quinoa, water chestnuts, patchouli oil, and tempeh because you did not expect the ersatz burger to be a facsimile of actual meat. However, when manufacturers are putting pictures on the package that make the plant based burgers look like raw meat, selling patties alongside actual meat in the butcher’s case, or advertising that the patties “bleed” the experience needs to be spot on.
Until I have had to opportunity to try the Impossible Foods burger, which is only available in restaurants that do not happen to be near me, I am going to reserve judgement on the entire category. For now these next generation plant based burgers are pretty good at replacing the experience of an actual meat burger but there is just a little something off that is throwing the experience.
Have you tried the Don Lee Farms plant based burger?