These days, more and more people are trying to eat healthy. They are looking to boost their vegetable intake and, at the same time, lower their meat consumption. While the traditional beef burger still has a large and avid audience, there’s more reason than ever to add plant-based burgers to your restaurant’s menu and to attract a clientele that will appreciate your efforts to keep their interests in mind by creating meatless offerings.
A Meatless Burger…Seriously?
As many Americans attempt to reduce their meat consumption, one of the products coming out of Silicon Valley, along with the latest apps and time-saving gadgets, is a burger made with no meat. Revolutionary start-ups like Beyond Meat, are aiming to spread the word of their faux-meat products, which do away with the cow, but still taste like beef — and bring them into restaurants and supermarkets.
This effort comes in response to the ever-burgeoning movement to decrease the environmental impact of animal production. There is growing concern that the 10 billion animals killed for food each year in the United States are major contributors to greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, inventing a pseudo-meat product is one step in the fight for the planet. Cultivating beef requires four times the land of dairy production and uses seven times the resources needed to produce poultry. In addition, livestock and their byproducts account for at least 32,000 million tons of carbon dioxide per year, which is more than 50% of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
Those above statistics relate to the health of our planet; however, the effects of meat consumption on the human body are equally alarming. The World Health Organization (WHO) has linked red meat consumption with the risk of cancer and urges consumers to moderate their intake of beef-based foods. Meat has a tendency to linger in the colon and can lead to poor digestion and ongoing stomach problems.
But Is It “Meat”?
To Ethan Brown, the CEO of Beyond Meat, the word “meat” has more to do with a food’s “chemical composition” than its animal origin. “You don’t need an animal to create meat,” Brown says. “Meat is… lipids, it’s trace minerals, and its water. None of those have exclusive residence in the animal…” He makes these claims in response to a petition filed by the U.S. Cattleman’s Association asking for specific definitions for terms like “beef” and “meat” on product labels, and insisting that such words should “inform customers that the product is derived naturally from animals as opposed to alternative proteins … or artificially grown in a laboratory.”
Good News for Fans of Plant-Based Burgers
For years, vegetarians have been enjoying burgers that are made from vegetables, lentils, or a combination of both (and they still are – see recipe, below). However, what sets the burgers from Beyond Meat (and other companies, such as Impossible Foods) apart from traditional veggie burgers is that they feel like real meat in the mouth. Due to food technology that is used to replicate real red meat, these companies can produce burgers that smell and cook as though they were made entirely of beef.
The beets in Beyond Meat’s burger cause the product to “bleed” when it is cooked; other ingredients used to make this burger are yeast extract, coconut oil and peas. The Impossible Foods burger contains wheat, coconut oil and potatoes, and the characteristic meaty look and bleeding is due to an ingredient called heme. Further down the road, in three to five years from now, expect to see lab-grown meats in which animal stem cells are used to create meat-like products enter the market, bringing products that are even more cutting-edge, to the dining table.
The Slow Revolution
Plant-based, lab-grown meats are unlikely to make a huge dent in beef production in the short term, though they could have a long-term impact. Americans are eating more meat than ever, and the average American is expected to eat more than 220 pounds of red meat and poultry this year, a steep sharp upward trend. This may seem counter-intuitive, given the environmental and health concerns; but the price of meat has declined lately, fueling the demand.
The typical customers who are interested in trying out a faux burger are environmentally aware meat lovers: beef consumers who are looking for food that is healthier for their bodies and safer for the planet. Plant-based patties lack the hormones, carcinogens, saturated and trans-fat that a burger made from animal protein has. Instead, they are full of fiber, nutrients, and protein. Plant-based burgers, such as the Impossible Burger, use 75% less water, 95% less land and create 87% less greenhouse gas emissions, than a burger made from animals.
Beyond Meat has infiltrated the market by placing its burger patties in the meat aisles of about 25,000 stores across the United States; Impossible Foods, on the other hand, has introduced people to its animal-free meat by way of restaurants, and Impossible Burgers are available at more than 600 U.S. restaurants (and soon hope to conquer Asia, as well).
Fake Meat or Real Vegetables?
Before companies like Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods came along, consumers who shunned meat but still liked a juicy patty on a roll with all the accoutrements, opted for veggie burgers. Veggie burgers are still a popular menu item for anyone who wants to make healthier choices in their diet, and even if you add Impossible Burgers to your restaurant’s menu, you should leave the veggie burger selection intact. In other words, there is room on your menu for all kinds of plant-based burgers.
Veggie burgers are low in saturated fat, and most contain fewer calories than beef burgers. Some veggie burgers contain as few as 70 calories, compared to the average beef burger, which can exceed 300 calories per serving. (Impossible Burgers and Beyond Meat burgers weigh in at a not-insignificant 290 calories per portion.) Veggie burgers not only help to maintain weight, they can also help prevent diseases such as colon cancer. This is because a veggie burger contains a high amount of fiber, which is both good for the colon and beneficial to your heart.
Offer Your Customers a “Home-Made” Veggie Burger
The veggie burgers found in supermarket freezers are loaded with sodium and other preservatives. However, if you add veggie burgers to your menu, you can ensure that they will provide a healthy alternative to beef by using the freshest ingredients and no additives. Here’s a recipe from the Healthy Maven website that will be a fabulous and healthy addition to your menu.
Lentil and Mushroom Veggie Burgers
- 1 cup dry green or red lentils
- 1 Tbsp. olive oil
- 1 cup finely chopped onion
- 2 stalks celery – finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves – minced
- 4 cups mixed mushrooms – chopped
- 1 Tbsp. prepared mustard
- 1 tsp. balsamic vinegar
- 1 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
- 1 egg
- 1/4 tsp, freshly ground black pepper
- 3/4 tsp. salt
- Cook lentils in 2 cups of water. Once cooked, add to a large bowl and mash.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
- Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onions and sauté for 3 minutes or until translucent. Add in celery, garlic cloves and mushrooms. Cook for about 5 minutes, or until mushrooms are wilted.
- Add the veggie mixture (above) to lentils and stir in mustard, vinegar, and thyme. Mix until combined. Add egg, salt and pepper.
- Using your hands, form into patties (will yield five or six).
- Place on parchment-paper-lined baking sheet and flatten slightly, but not too thin.
- Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and flip. Bake for another 20 minutes.
- Let cool on baking sheet for at least 10 minutes before serving.
Plant-Based Burgers to the Rescue
For many people it’s hard to imagine that their burger has been “cooked” up in a laboratory; for others, companies like Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, are saving our planet and our bodies and they’ve come along not a moment too soon. When it comes to fake-meat burgers and veggie burgers – both of which are plant-based – one thing is clear: these foods are healthier for us and for our planet, and they are loaded with fiber and nutrients. So, do your customers and planet Earth a favor – add plant-based burgers to your restaurant’s menu, and watch your business bloom.