In case you haven’t heard – “meat-free” is no longer the preserve of vegans and vegetarians! While meat-substitute companies have been around for some time, 2019 will probably go down as the inflection point for “meat-free meat” globally, as the hype for them has reached the mainstream.
The 10 year-old Beyond Meat and 9-year-old Impossible, both offer meat substitutes that are designed to convert existing meat eaters, while giving vegans and vegetarians more choice. The resulting burgers made from their products are reputed to be very much like meat in behaviour: they sizzle like meat, take on char marks and even “bleed” like real beef when cooked medium rare.
The claimed ecological benefits of these meat alternatives are immense, with close to a 90% reduction in land use, resource use and emissions. To be clear though, these products are not health products, with calorific values similar to real beef. The aim is to provide sustainable alternatives that recreate the sensations of cooked meat.
Both Beyond and Impossible have this target but and take slightly different paths to get there. The Beyond burger is made from pea protein and “bleeds” with beet juice. The Impossible burger is more soy based and bleeds with Heme, a synthetic haemoglobin that simulates the iron-y tang and the complex aromas of meat when it hits the griddle or fire.
So after all the bold claims, can a die-hard meat eater tell the difference? This is where I humbly offer my services, as a true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool eater of meats.
The Impossible™ burger
Tried and tasted: The “Impossible Chedda” at Three Buns
1st min: The patty appears crumby and a lot like minced beef! I take a bite. I can’t taste beef, the texture of the patty seems lost in the mix of the bun and other ingredients.
2nd min: Okay, the character of the patty is coming through. Damn, this is a salty patty. No beef flavour yet. When warm, it still feels a bit like pearls of imitation meat against your teeth, not entirely convincing.
8th min: I let the burger sit, I tear a bit more of the patty off and have a nibble. Wait. It’s really starting to feel and taste like real meat, with all the beef flavours starting to flood through.
Verdict: Okay, if the cooled down burger had been put in front of me and I took a casual bite, I would have assumed it was real beef. Very impressive. I am a believer! Borderline shocking, actually.
The Beyond™ burger
Tried and tasted: The “Vegan Burger” at 25 Degrees
1st min: The patty arrives looking like a torched grey disc in a sandwich. It looks like it’s been cut from a tube of meat. I take a bite. Fake smoke and salt creeps up my tongue. Not a promising start.
2nd min: I cut a small bit of the patty to get a more specific taste. This feels like an old-school meat substitute product: One-dimensional, crumbling textures and a strong smoky flavour that is compensating a bit too much.
8th min: I let the burger sit. Cooled off, I do the small bit of patty test again. Nope, no real difference. Everything is still not convincingly beef-like. I wonder if maybe if this product is very sensitive to cooking technique?
Verdict: Quite unsure what the hype is about but all things considered, it was not a bad burger to eat, as long as you knew that it’s not real meat in there. It’s probably similar to how vegetarian bee hoon is fun to eat because we like the mock meat as a thing itself. It’s more convincing to enjoy this for what it is and not what it tries to be, as much as that is not what Beyond wants to hear.
“Daisy”, a.k.a. a real beef burger
Tried and tasted: The “Number 1” at 25 Degrees
1st min: Yes, looks and smells like a burger. Mmmm.
2nd min: This is quality ground sirloin, served rare. Lots of iron tang and a complex range of textures. Beef!
8th min: This patty is barely seasoned at all. Suddenly the taste of real meat feels strong and raw after the simulated, digital flavours of the Beyond burger. I feel a bit guilty for eating Daisy now for some reason.
Verdict: Back to back with a simulated beef patty, a real quality beef patty really tastes a lot more primal, more complex and more luxurious. But it also confronts me with the reality of a future where real meat can be seem to be a bit outmoded and a bit excessive if the simulated products start to fall in cost and become ubiquitous.
Like electric cars, the technology to make a meat substitute is at a point where mainstream acceptance is going to be an inevitability. And given our exponential global population growth in the last 40 years and our pressure on resources, even the skeptic in me has to admit that alternatives are welcome and an interesting way forward.
But back to the burgers…
After some reflection, it’s surprisingly clear who these burgers can work for. The Impossible™ is a stunningly good imitation of meat and an obsessive achievement that is changing the game by successfully offering the meat-eating faithful a humane alternative. The success of the product does raise an unusual problem, though – I’ve heard anecdotally that some non-meat-eaters have actually found the burger too real and have thrown up after eating it! If that is not some ringing endorsement then I don’t know what is!
So perhaps that is where the Beyond burger comes in. It succeeds less in simulating beef, but in missing that target, it still makes for a pretty good vegan burger.
That being said – as different as these products seem right now – they all make decent burgers. But they are all atas burgers, which… to me, isn’t really my jam because (whisper it) real burgers are the really nasty fast food ones! Okay, put your pitchforks down – what I mean to say is, fast food burgers are the most accessible and the most ubiquitous. And that’s the endgame for these products, right? So maybe what they need to do is roll out the Impossible™ whopper locally. I for one would be curious to know what the Impossible patty will taste like in a truly mass market, food-of-the-people setting; thin, grey, rubbery and cooked against a stopwatch.
Whatever the case, it looks like the future of “meat” is already here. Curious? Go get a bite of it.
Thanks to 25 degrees at G hotel for hosting the tasting of the Beyond burger and the real beef burger. Check them out for Burgers, milkshakes and other comfort food.