If you stroll down the meat aisle at your local grocery store, you might not even notice the newcomer that’s trying to revolutionize the way carnivores eat. Only a closer look will reveal the unexpected words—”plant-based”—adorning packages filled with something that looks startlingly like ground beef. Just who is this meatless champion? And how is it different from the veggie burgers that have been meat alternatives for years? To answer these questions, let’s dive into the budding world of plant-based meat.
The Roots of the Plant-Based Movement
Vegetarians and vegans have known for ages how to nourish their bodies without meat. Plants have an abundance of nutrients, and the right diet can easily make up for the protein that many get via meat. There’s something about meat, however— the sizzle on the grill, the trademark smell, the texture—that captivates the senses of many carnivores. This is what some in the plant-based meat industry call the “theater of meat”, an element of the eating experience that many value as much as flavor.
Researchers around the world are hard at work trying to replicate this “theater”, carefully crafting what they believe to be the “Future of Protein”—plant-based products that crumble, sizzle, and even bleed. To organizations investing in the production of ‘meatless’ meat, the proper plant-based product represents far more than simply a better option for vegetarians. A convincing plant-based meat is a bargaining chip, a way to persuade carnivores to eat more sustainably—a way to literally save the world.
Consider the following—a worldwide ban on animal products would have the same environmental impact as converting transportation worldwide to 100% clean energy (livestock accounts for a whopping 14.5% of global greenhouse gases, whereas transportation was responsible for 14% of the global emissions in 2010 (Fortune)). Although agriculture has always contributed to the warming of our planet, it’s never been this dire—America’s $200 billion meat industry continues to grow, with the U.S. population increasing by nearly 20 million since 2010—and the dilemma remains the same. People that love meat simply do not see a worthy alternative. That’s why investors and innovators have agreed—it’s time to reinvent meat.
Plant-based meat is on the cusp of tipping the scale towards sustainability. Right now, a consumer must choose between their love of meat and their love of the environment. If a company can truly mimic the experience and taste of beef, sausage, and chicken, however, the paradigm changes. Luckily for us (and our planet) sustainable meat may just be here, with several companies touting plant-based meats that are more than just meat alternatives.
There are two companies in California on the forefront of the plant-based meat movement—Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. Although united by the same goal, each has a different take on how to best replicate the taste and feel of meat to solve the growing crisis around agricultural sustainability.
Impossible Foods opts for wheat protein and potato protein to give their meat a recognizable chew (and, of course, a healthy protein boost). The meaty flavor they achieve stems from a product called heme—this oxygen carrying molecule present in your blood was also found to exist in plants, and the scientists at Impossible Foods learned to produce it themselves using fermentation. The addition of fermented and naturally occurring binders like xanthan and konjac help the patties stay together, and a dash of soy beans and coconut oil helps the burger sizzle when it hits the grill.
Beyond Meat uses pea protein as the base for its burger, extracted using state of the art cold presses to retain as much of the nutritional value of the peas as possible. Beet juice gives it the hallmark color and “bleeding” effect, and coconut oil and potato starch give the burger a wonderfully beef-like texture and tenderness. Beyond Meat offers nearly the whole gauntlet of plant-based meats—their Beyond Sausage and Beyond Chicken use non-GMO pea and soy protein as well to achieve a hearty likeness to their respective meats.
By the Numbers
Tasting, sizzling, and bleeding like meat is important to many consumers, but nourishing like (or better than) meat is central to what plant-based meat companies are trying to achieve. Beyond Meat offers a burger that stacks up nicely against a true beef patty:
Because the health effects of eating red meat aren’t fully understood, scientists are still unsure whether to call these plant-based meats “healthier” than their meat counterparts. What you can count on, however, is that you aren’t missing out on anything. With as much protein, iron, and healthy fats without any of the negative cholesterol, these burgers are built from the ground up to include everything you want and limit what you don’t.
The Beyond Burger is Planted on Our Menu
We are proud to be joining the plant-based meat movement, welcoming the Beyond Burger to our ever-changing menu of delectable dishes. Our chefs loved what they tasted, and we truly believe that their vision could change the world’s food system forever. We’re pairing their meatless patty with a Panorama multi grain bun, a vegan herb aioli, pickled red onions, mixed baby greens, and a spicy harissa dressing. Join us in celebrating a new era of delicious sustainability, ushered in by innovative science and a devotion to scrumptious cuisine.