You hear the grill sizzle and your eyes and taste buds are drawn to what appears to be the expected ground beef burger. Or is it? Increasingly, plant-based meat alternatives are popping up in the supermarket and at restaurants, helping propel vegetarian and vegan choices more mainstream.
You could readily see and taste this trend at the 2019 National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, the place to explore everything that’s happening in the industry, from equipment, food and beverage products, and even technology. My husband, photographer John Ivanko, and I attend this show annually to experience what’s hot and up-and-coming in the food scene. Plant-based proteins were already evident at the show when we covered this trend in 2018 and 2017. Today, more companies than ever before are providing vegetable-based alternatives to everything from beef to eggs to eel that might be used in sushi.
Plant-based protein options on the menu give diners an eco-friendly substitute that champions sustainability and mitigates climate change. By simply reducing our animal-based meat consumption, particularly the industrial, large-scale meat most commonly available, we tread lighter on the Earth.
According to studies conducted by the University of California, Davis, it’s much more energy efficient and cost-effective to eat plant-based foods than animal products. From a greenhouse gas emissions perspective, it’s better for the environment to eat plant-based foods because water use decreases significantly. It takes anywhere between 2,000 and 8,000 gallons of water to produce a pound of commercial beef, with much of this water used to irrigate crops that are harvested to feed the cows.
Interestingly, meat lovers are fueling this growth in plant-based proteins. A growing number of meat eaters identify themselves as “flexitarian” and seek out vegetable-based alternatives like Impossible Burger and Beyond Burger. Both Impossible Foods and Beyond Foods were recipients of the 2019 National Restaurant Show’s Food and Beverage Innovations (FABI) Award. Don’t think this is some niche fad: Beyond Foods, the parent company of Beyond Burger, went public in May, 2019, and was considered one of the best performing initial public offering in nearly twenty years. A key to their success and widespread acceptance is that these meat alternatives taste and cook just like a meat-based burger. Even die-hard meat lovers remain impressed and Beyond Burger is now a limited-time option at many Carl’s Jr restaurants. And Burger King is testing out Impossible Burgers at select locations.
“Over 90 percent of the folks who order an Impossible Burger are self-identified meat eaters,” shares Chef J. Michael Melton, Technical Sales and Culinary Manager at Impossible Foods. “We wanted to create something that is uncompromisingly delicious in addition to being as versatile as any other ground meat protein. From a culinary perspective, this versatility lends itself to use this in any application you would use ground beef, from meatloaf to lasagna to tacos to spring roll filling.”
At the 2019 National Restaurant Association Show, we saw this plant-based protein movement evolve. Vegetable-based alternatives that mimic ingredients so realistically you’d swear you’re eating the real deal. It’s arguably a shift from “farm-to-table” to “farm-to-lab-to-plate,” with results that can be both sustainable and tasty, since years of lab research and scientific testing were involved to get to this point. Depending on the manufacturer, these plant-based proteins may come from soy beans, mung beans or peas, depending on the manufacturer.
“People are starting to think more about the impact of their buying choices and at the same time we are producing a product that really caters to meat eaters,” offers Esther Cohn, Communications Operations Specialist at Impossible Foods. “To us, the vegans and vegetarians are already on the right path and have chosen sustainable eating habits, so it was really important for us to we are able to convert meat eaters with a product that tastes like meat, cooks like meat and made entirely from plants.”
“Our company is at the synthesis of science, food and culinary,” explains Matt Riley, Senior Vice President at JUST, a company that developed a vegan egg-based alternative based on the mung bean that can be used exactly like an egg, from scrambling to baking. These mung beans are non-GMO, a food trend that continues to be top of mind at the National Restaurant Association Show for a few years now. “We actually patented the process of isolating proteins in plants, figuring out how they function in food. Do they gel or bind, for example, and then convert that into delicious food. JUST Egg has all the similar positive protein attributes of an egg but without the cholesterol or saturated fat.”
Other new plant-based options include items like a vegan eel alternative for sushi from Ocean Hugger Foods and a fully plant-based and no-sugar-added ice cream from Reveri Ice Cream that tastes like marzipan, thanks to one of its key ingredients, almonds.
With protein dense sunflower and sesame seeds, even beet burgers popped up on a sampling tray at Sol Cuisine at the National Restaurant Association Show. Experiment in your farmstead kitchen by creating a plant-based burger with the Beet Burger recipe from our Farmstead Chef cookbook. Sunflowers and sesame seeds increase the protein content and the deep, natural red color of the beets give it a hearty burger feel. The recipe easily doubles or triples, so make a big batch since they freeze well. Experiment with various kinds of rice for different textures and flavors.
Beet Burger Recipe
From Farmstead Chef by Lisa Kivirist and John D. Ivanko
Yield: approximately 12 burger patties.
• 4 cup beets, grated (4 medium beets)
• 1 cup onion, chopped (1 medium onion)
• 1 cup cooked long grain brown rice
• 1 cup sunflower seeds
• ½ cup sesame seeds
• 2 eggs, lightly beaten
• 2 tbsp soy sauce
• 1 cup cheddar cheese, grated
• 3 tbsp flour (use a non-wheat flour to make these gluten-free)
• 1 cup vegetable oil
1. Mix all ingredients well in a large bowl. We find it easiest to do this with clean, wet hands.
2. Form into patties and place on lightly oiled baking sheets.
3. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes.
4. After about 40 minutes, flip patties for the last 5 minutes of baking. Cooked patties should be browned and firm.
You may need to use a spatula to get patty off baking sheet.
Serve these burgers just like you would a hamburger, with lettuce, tomato, cheese and condiments inside a bun. We like ours with barbecue sauce.
Lisa Kivirist, with her husband, John D. Ivanko, a photographer and drone pilot, have co-authored Rural Renaissance, Homemade for Sale, the award-winning ECOpreneuring and Farmstead Chef cookbook along with operating Inn Serendipity B&B and Farm, completely powered by renewable energy. Kivirist also authored Soil Sisters. As a writer, Kivirist contributes to Mother Earth News, most recently, Living with Renewable Energy Systems: Wind and Solar and 9 Strategies for Self-Sufficient Living. They live on a farm in southwestern Wisconsin with their son Liam and millions of ladybugs.
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