There's been a lot of talk in the food world lately about a new product on the market: the veggie burger that bleeds. There are at least two versions currently being sold: the Impossible Burger—which is so far only being distributed to select restaurant chefs in three cities—and the Beyond Burger which is currently being sold at Whole Foods in 25 states. Beyond Meat, the company responsible for the Beyond Burger, hopes to have the product available nationwide by year's end.
With these new introductions to the burger world, we decided it was time for a taste test of some of the more commonly available veggie burgers.
Our first realization: There are a lot of veggie burgers out there. While our typical blind taste tests include five to eight brands, we couldn't whittle our essential veggie burger brand list to less than 13, and even then we were afraid we missed a few. (We skipped the Impossible Burger because of its lack of availability to retail consumers.)
To make sure the burgers were comparable, we selected the original or "most basic" flavor each brand had on offer. Once we started tasting, we realized that there are two distinct types of veggie burgers: 1) a meat alternative intended to look, feel, and taste like a traditional burger, or 2) a veggie patty that looks, feels, and tastes like vegetables, but can also be put on a bun, similar to the one Associate Food Editor Kat Sacks developed last summer. We included both types in our tasting.
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And that leads to the third realization. Most veggie burgers are bad. Very bad. Like, I want to go hug a vegan and apologize bad. But there were a few bright spots. Let's start with those:
The Veggie Burgers We Liked
Dr. Praeger's California Veggie Burgers
First off, the ingredients in our top-rated veggie burger are all things nearly anyone can pronounce. The most "out there" ingredient is arrowroot powder, which we've written about here. This is one of those options that tastes nothing like a beef burger, but our editors loved the vaguely curry-ish, carrot-forward flavors and recognizable veggies. It was slightly sweet, with a good amount of seasoning, and nice texture.
Whole Foods 365 Meatless Burgers
This was our top-rated choice among the meat-alternative variety. Senior Editor Anya Hoffman thought this patty looked the best of the bunch and Kat enjoyed its slightly spicy, not overpoweringly smoky flavor. I found the texture to be reminiscent of pre-cooked frozen sausage—which is not a bad thing if you're planning to pile it high with tomatoes, pickles, and ketchup on a burger bun.
Trader Joe’s Quinoa Cowboy Veggie Burgers With Black Beans and Roasted Corn
We all liked this selection from Trader Joe's, but most of us said we would probably never eat it on a bun since the texture is a little too soft to provide much contrast. Also made from largely real-food–sounding ingredients, it had a bean patty–like interior, a crispy crust, and—as the name suggests—a Southwestern-inspired flavor. Anya said that she would eat it again on its own as a mid-day snack or with lightly-dressed greens for a quick weeknight dinner, Kat suggested crumbling or cutting it up prior to crisping in a pan, and then layering in a pita sandwich.
The Beyond Burger
(Vegan, Gluten-Free, Soy-Free)
Truthfully, this burger was the most divisive of the bunch. A few of our editors rated it the most vile, while others rated it with the highest score possible. Some of that in-fighting may have been due to the way we prepared these burgers. To keep things fair, we cooked all of the burgers the same way: baking them in a 375ºF oven for 6 to 18 minutes, depending on thickness and whether the burger came from the refrigerator or freezer. Beyond Meat, however, suggests cooking their burger exactly as you would a traditional beef burger: searing on a hot grill or pan until crisp on the outside and juicy and pink within.
Regardless of preparation, I found the flavor very appealing—almost like aged meat—and could be fooled into thinking it was a beef burger if someone handed it to me fresh off the grill. Alternatively, Anya and Kat said it reminded them of cat food. It does have a distinctly tropical fruit scent when raw (although cellulose from bamboo is the only tropical ingredient listed), so if you're feeding your cat Jackfruit-and-Pineapple Fancy Feast, maybe you'll feel the same way. As for the "does it really bleed" question, the answer is not so much, but it does stay pink and juicy inside due to beet extract.
Morning Star Farms Grillers Original Burgers
People of a certain age will remember when Morning Star Farms, Boca, and Gardenburger were the only veggie burger game in town. Of those three, this brand tops the list (more on those other two in a minute). Like the Whole Foods patty, this burger has a processed-sausage quality, and benefits from a certain amount of nostalgia. We thought it was slightly over-seasoned, but that's nothing a big slice of tomato and a few lettuce leaves can't fix. Special Projects Editor Adina Steiman agreed that this option was "nice and chewy," but found it "ultimately unsatisfying."
The Veggie Burgers We'd Prefer Not to Eat Again
Sweet Earth Sante Fe Veggie Burger
This burger suffered from an overpowering level of fake-smoke flavor. Editorial Assistant Tommy Werner thought the texture was "like an oatmeal cookie," with Food Editor Rhoda Bonne echoing the sentiment, calling it, "gummy, but pleasantly chunky." I compared it to vegan bean chili, but in patty form, and thought it was chewy, but not in a good way.
Amy’s California Veggie Burger
Per Tommy: "If a granola bar fell on the floor of a taxi cab, I imagine it would have this texture." Adina compared it to a kasha knish and thought it was like someone had taken that grainy filling and put it in a smoker. It was definitely the most mushy patty of the bunch, and gave us the strongest sense that we were indeed eating something that was "good for us." Not a good thing.
Gardenburger: The Original Veggie Burger
Gardenburger's offering had a strange mustardy flavor, and Kat thought the texture was "watery and weirdly chewy," with "cheesy bits" of something popping in her mouth. Rhoda thought this patty looked the most unappetizing, like congealed oatmeal, and found the texture to be gummy. Anya thought it "bizarrely moist," but didn't mind the flavor. And Adina only had one word to offer: "Horrifying."
Hilary’s World’s Best Veggie Burger
(Vegan, Gluten-Free, Soy-Free)
This millet-, chia-, and hemp-based burger looks like a rice cake and has the crumbliness to match. It was exceptionally dry, with Rhoda comparing the taste to "corn-flavored dust." Despite the all-natural ingredient list, Tommy didn't like its fake-buttery flavor. Someone might want to rethink the name.
Boca All American Classic Veggie Burgers
Kat found this stalwart to have the iconic veggie burger taste she remembered, but the rest of the editors noted its unpleasant smokiness, with Tommy going so far as to say that it tasted like a "gas line." Rhoda didn't appreciate the burger's fake grill marks (SHE CAN'T BE FOOLED, KRAFT FOODS!) And I found it left a strange and bitter filminess in my mouth.
Wildwood Sproutofu Veggie Burger Original
This burger also had some lovers and haters. Ultimately the haters won out, dropping it to nearly the bottom of the list, but both Kat and I said we would eat it again—just not as a burger. It has a pleasant quiche-like texture, and if it were chopped and pan-seared until crisp, it could be a nice crouton alternative. Adina, on the other hand, dubbed it "edible sadness," and Anya reviewed it with a succinct, "Just yuck."
The Veggie Burgers That Are Still Giving Our Editors Nightmarish Flashbacks
Sunshine Quarter Pound Original Organic Burgers
(Vegan, Gluten-Free, Soy-Free)
These burgers are just as big as they are terrible. No, strike that, they're definitely worse than they are big, so good luck getting through the whole quarter-pound. The flavor is like rotten greens and the texture is pure mush. (Slimy clamshell spring mix, anyone?) Rhoda's reaction: "Really, really not good. The greenish color is not helping." Tommy likened its appearance to cobblestone, and Adina compared its taste to prison gruel. Not regular gruel. Prison gruel.
Beyond Meat Beast Burger
(Vegan, Gluten-Free, Soy-Free)
Quite frankly, even a beast would bypass this...whatever it is. Out of a possible score of 100, it scored a 9. First of all, the burger patty is pocked with speckles—are they supposed to mimic fat pockets?
Anya said that tasting it was "like eating tobacco," and noted that it looked more like "a flattened-out, date-based protein bar" than a burger. Rhoda's comparison was a more specific Cliff-bar likeness with "bad fake-smoke flavor." When I first tasted this burger, I thought it wasn't very good, but as I chewed the flavor grew in intensity and its likeability declined even further. Adina's reaction was one of incredulous, disgusted wonder: "I have to believe that no veggie burger could ever taste this bad." Well, Adina, this time you were wrong.