It’s been quite the month for plant-based burgers. Last week at CES we watched (and tasted) as Impossible Foods unveiled their new ground “beef” recipe, and in the New Year Beyond Meat rolled out a new burger formula of their own right before they launched a partnership with Carl’s Jr.
In the spirit of journalism, I stopped by the Carl’s Jr. in downtown San Francisco today to sample Beyond Meat’s new “Burger 2.0.” The burger arrived in a fluffy sesame bun and was topped with cheese, mayo, ketchup, pickles, tomatoes, and a hefty slice of iceberg lettuce.
So how did it taste? Pretty good. The burger itself was nicely pink and had the trademark tepid char evocative of fast food burgers everywhere (that’s actually a good thing). The “meat” was lightly packed and almost spongy, with the fatty juiciness that we expect from beef. However, there were some chewy ribbons throughout that almost reminded me of yuba, or tofu skin; a texture I like, but which doesn’t especially make me think I’m eating beef.
Sadly, most of the nuance of the burger got lost under the loud flavors of the pickles, condiments, and the bun, which dwarfed the patty. This isn’t necessarily bad; fast-food burgers aren’t just about the taste of the beef, they’re about the umami-bomb that comes from putting a bunch of savory, fatty ingredients — ketchup, pickles, cheese — together. In this way the Beyond Famous Star reminded me of a stereotypical fast-food burger more than any other plant-based option I’ve tried so far. And for a lot of consumers, that’s pretty appealing.
So how was the new recipe? Coincidentally, I’d eaten a Beyond burger three nights before while out at a local craft burger joint, who was still serving the original Beyond recipe. During the taste test I tried hard to compare the two, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn’t discern any noticeable difference. According to the Beyond website, the Burger 2.0 has less saturated fat than the original (a good thing), and apparently a “more meat-like texture.” I’d say the texture was maybe slightly chewier, which doesn’t exactly scream “meat-like” to me.
While I was chewing at the Beyond burger I couldn’t help but compare it to the Impossible Burger 2.0 I’d tried the previous week at CES in Vegas. Admittedly, the Impossible burgers at the unveiling event were prepared by a prestigious chef, not a fast-food line cook; they were also cooked into carefully curated dishes instead of slapped on a bun with some condiments and tasteless tomatoes. But the new Impossible burger’s texture just reminded me more of beef: its texture was looser and more natural, and it had the rich bloodiness of a medium-raw patty.
Though the Beyond burger at Carl’s Jr. might not taste 100 percent like beef, it can’t exactly call itself vegan, either, since the burger is prepared and charbroiled in the same spaces as beef patties. That eliminates quite a few potential customers (read: strict vegetarians and vegans), but according to the manager at the Carl’s Jr., the Beyond burger has been a popular addition to the menu. What’s more, she told me that once customers they try the Beyond Famous Star once they’ll often come back and order it again. “Even people who work here eat it,” she told me.
The Beyond Famous Star burger cost $9.49 at the downtown SF location I went to, $12.99 with fries and a drink. That’s more than the $6.29 that the Beyond Famous Star burger costs at my local Seattle location, but since Carl’s Jr. is a franchise pricing varies depending on location.
Plant-based meat options are becoming more and more accessible, popping up on fast food menus and grocery aisles alongside beef and pork sausage. In addition to Carl’s Jr., Beyond also has partnerships with Del Taco and Canada’s A&W chain. Said accessibility is key as Beyond Meat marches towards an IPO in 2019, making it the first meat-like alterna-meat company to go public. We’ll no doubt see many more iterations of Beyond’s burger (and its kin) down the road, as plant-based meat companies continue to try and create a product so good, it disrupts the meat industry completely.