Is the future of vegan meat already here?

Two revolutionary meat-free burgers are currently battling out on US soil. But what do they mean for the global vegan scene?

16 August 2017
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image credit: Rimma_Bondarenko/iStock/thinkstock.co.uk

Let the battle of the burgers commence. Vegan burgers, that is. So perhaps less of a blood-curdling brawl and more of a strongly worded discussion. In sandals. But still, testy times in the world of meat-free alternatives. Especially given that blood-shed – albeit faux blood – is a USP of this particular battle scene.

In one corner you have the Impossible Burger – the protagonist in this very modern conflict.

The Impossible Burger is the culmination of five years of Silicon Valley bods exploring why meat tastes like meat. The answer, it turns out – and the Impossible Burger’s ‘magic ingredient’ – is heme, an iron-containing molecule. If you didn’t already know (and how could you not?), heme comes all wrapped up in something called leghemoglobin which, when it comes in soy plants and legumes, is called soy leghemoglobin.

Keeping up?

Good.

Anyway, soy leghemoglobin has all those juicy, decadent properties of its meaty counterpart. So the Impossible Burger boffins decided to genetically modify the stuff from yeast (as you do) and, hey presto, a burger so succulent that it appears to bleed when you cut into it.

Bleeding genius

Backed by $257m dollars in venture-capital funding, the Impossible Burger is served in various gourmet burger joints, mainly in California (Umami Burger), New York (Bareburger) and Texas (Hopdoddy). There are no immediate plans to put it in supermarkets. Oh, and there’s currently a slight hoo-ha over just how safe soy leghemoglobin is for humans. Impossible Burger insists ‘very,’ and it does have Generally Recognised as Safe status. But the FDA is taking issue with this. The situation is ongoing.

Which is where contender II comes into play – meet the Beyond Burger.

 

Unlike its genetically modified opponent (note the only thing GMO about the Impossible Burger is the soy leghemoglobin; the rest of it is pretty natural), the Beyond Burger is a heady mix of pea protein and, for that meaty hue, beetroot. 

The Beyond Burger is available at small West Coat vegetarian chain Veggie Grill, as well as selected outlets of bigger gourmet burger chain Burgerfi.

And in a show of marketing genius, its ‘raw’ patties are also stocked in the meat aisles of Whole Foods as well as, amongst others, selected Kroger-owned stores (the country’s largest grocery chain). This fits in with Beyond Meat’s vision to transform the traditional meat aisle into the ‘protein aisle,’ where meat and plant-based proteins are sold alongside each other.

A meaty issue

And so to the point: meat-like products are going to be game-changers in reducing meat consumption globally. While we know the vegan scene is rocketing, it’s not necessarily going to be your committed veg muncher that these products appeal to; one can only assume the more hardcore vegans amongst us went cold turkey on their meat cravings long ago. Rather, the opportunity lies with the part-timers – the flexitarians, the reductionists – those who are conscious about cutting meat consumption and would do so happily if their alternative stacked up in terms of taste and texture. 

So with no immediate plans to export to the UK market, can developers here muscle into the plant-based protein battle ground? Heme at the ready people. 

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