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Putting Fake Meat To The Test

This November will mark the third year Successful Farming magazine dedicates an entire issue to technology. Our focus for this special mid-November issue is The Future of Food.  How we produce and grow food is changing to not only meet the growing demands from consumers but also to meet a growing population. Because technology will be at the center of this transformation, this issue will highlight 12 technologies and their potential to change how we produce food in the future.

One of the technologies we explore is fake meat. It’s a topic that has gotten a great deal of publicity lately as the meat sector works to ensure the integrity of its industry is not compromised by allowing look-alikes to be placed beside real beef in the meat aisle of your local grocery store.

According to Beyond Meats, part of its Future of Protein vision is to reimagine the meat section as the protein section of the grocery store.

“In this way,” says the company’s website, “we can help people on their journey to eating more plant-based foods by allowing them to purchase plant-based choices in the section of the store where they are already purchasing other forms of protein.”

Controversy aside, our editorial team wanted to learn first-hand whether these “craft burgers” were all that the companies promised. Last month, Lynn Blanchard, Test Kitchen director for Meredith Corporation, along with members of the Successful Farming team, had a chance to see how the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger cooked and tasted compared with a beef burger. We also requested a burger from Memphis Meats, the company that is harvesting cells instead of animals. The company declined to participate at this time.

The Beyond Burger

Claiming it’s a brand-new burger made completely from plants that looks, cooks, and tastes like a fresh beef burger, the Beyond Burger from Beyond Meats did closely mimic a beef burger when it came to how it cooked. It had real substance like a beef burger and was juicy. It was prepared on the stove rather than on the grill. However, the package said either was an option.

“Our goal was to provide the full 360-degree mouth-watering, juicy, and delicious experience of beef,” says the company’s website.

Packing 20 grams of protein, which comes from peas, the company has worked for more than seven years to create a burger that changes color as you cook it just like a beef burger. While Beyond Meats says it didn’t intentionally design its burger to “bleed”, beets do give the patty a red meat appearance.

Honestly, I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this burger. It’s texture and color were fairly similar to a beef burger. It had an appealing flavor with no after taste, which I was expecting.

We were able to purchase The Beyond Burger at a local HyVee in Iowa for around $6 for two patties. It is available in more than 5,000 grocery stores as well as thousands of restaurants nationwide.

The Impossible Burger

A core part of Impossible Foods mission, says its website, is to bypass animals and make delicious meat directly from plants. The company spent more than six years studying animal meat at the molecular level to discover how it works, how it handles and cooks, and especially how it produces the flavors and textures consumers have come to love in a traditional burger.

Besides potatoes, wheat, soy, and fat from coconuts, this burger also includes heme. The company discovered that heme is primarily responsible for generating the flavor and aroma of cooked meat. When mixed with plant proteins, fats and other simple nutrients, Impossible Foods says heme transforms what would otherwise be a dull-tasting veggie burger into meat. “The meat cooked, smelled, and tasted like a cow,” it says.

Although the Impossible Burger isn’t available in our local grocery stores, we were able to purchase a raw patty for $12 from a nearby restaurant. Similar to the Beyond Burger, our Test Kitchen director cooked the Impossible Burger on the stove top.

I think I set my expectations for this burger a little too high. The patty was very thin and once it was cooked, it had a bit of a crunch to it. To me, the texture wasn’t even close to a beef burger and neither was the taste. However, I do have to admit the Impossible Burger was tasty.

After trying both of these burgers, does this mean I’m going to give up eating a hamburger? Probably not, but I’m willing to recommend the Beyond Burger as an alternative to meat. The Impossible Burger, however, needs to have more substance before I’ll offer it up as another option on my dinner menu.

To view the Facebook Live event where we taste tested the Beyond Burger and Impossible Burger, click here.

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