Healthy rewards from small spaces
In a world in which so many eating lifestyles exist, can one lab built burger be marketed as “one burger for all food lifestyles”? The new burger introduced in grocery stores is the Beyond Burger which aims to recruit a mass market by simulating the look, feel, and taste of a meat burger.
The fast moving pace of today’s society has brought to the table many types of food alternatives to support different foodie trends and lifestyle choices. Let’s see, there are the carnivores (meat eaters), vegetarians, pescetarians (vegetarians who also eat fish), vegans (no animal products), and even fruitarians (plant based). Reasons for selecting a particular food lifestyle include food sensitivity, allergies, environmental concerns, religion and culture mandates, and even emotional reasons. Many variations and diet programs spin off from modern eating trends to serve each individual lifestyle or health requirement and grab whatever market share that can be taken.
Marketed as a meat alternative, this vegan faux-burger has used beet juice extract to imitate the blood that squeezes out of beef burgers as it cooks to please the carnivores, yet contains the natural plant protein to satisfy the rest of the eating lifestyles. Why is it that for whatever reason an individual chooses not to consume animal meat, such as a vegan, would they associate themselves with the simulation of eating bloody meat products with this new burger? Will the non-meat-eating population embrace this new burger that bleeds, and is it to “faux” to satisfy meat eaters?
The most important question to ask about this new burger should be, “Is it really healthy?” Here are the ingredients:
The Beyond Burger: pea protein isolate, expeller-pressed canola oil, refined coconut oil, water, yeast extract, maltodextrin, natural flavors, gum arabic, sunflower oil, salt, succinic acid, acetic acid, non-GMO modified food starch, cellulose from bamboo, methylcellulose, potato starch, beet juice extract (for color), ascorbic acid (to maintain color), annatto extract (for color), citrus fruit extract (to maintain quality), vegetable glycerin.
Compare that to the ingredients in an organic animal meat burger: Ground meat.
To answer the question if this new Beyond Burger is truly a healthy meat alternative, let’s review the factors of each ingredient.
Main ingredient: Pea protein isolate
Pea protein is a vegetable ingredient made from yellow split peas and is a popular protein source for non-meat eaters. In an isolate form, the fat and fiber are removed leaving a protein that is about 85% to 95% pure. People sensitive to allergies or digestive issues from legumes might want to use caution for this ingredient, but for the most part, pea protein is considered a good supplemental source of protein. Pea protein is free of gluten, lactose, and cholesterol, and digests slowly. Dietitians do not recommend pea protein as a primary protein source because it is not a complete protein being deficient in some necessary amino acids, such as methionine which is found in nuts, eggs, dairy and meat products.
Beware of the potential for GMO peas
Peas are on the list of foods that have been genetically modified. A gene is taken from a kidney bean which creates a protein that acts as a pesticide. Studies have shown GMO peas to cause immune responses in mice which could also put humans at risk. The packaging for the Beyond Burger does boast NO GMOs, but also does not specify if the pea protein isolate is from an organic origin, so pesticides might be used in the growing process of the peas.
Oils in the Beyond Burger
The Story of the Canola Plant
The canola seed is a hybrid from the rapeseed plant which was processed during the Industrial Revolution as an engine lubricant. Rapeseed oil was banned in 1956 by the FDA for food use when studies indicated the erucic acid (a non-desirable monounsaturated fat) found in the rapeseed oil proved to be toxic to young children. Through a seed splitting process, the rapeseed was bred to produce the canola plant which is low in erucic acid and high in oleic acid which is a good monounsaturated fat found in olive oil. In 1995, the canola plant received approval for Roundup genetic modification and today 80% of all canola grown is GMO. As mentioned earlier, the Beyond Burger packaging claims NO GMO’s, however without a certified organic claim as well, this does not mean that pesticides such as Roundup are not used during the growing process of the canola plant.
In the refining process to make canola oil, the poisonous chemical solvents hexane is used to extract the oil. Additional processing involves bleaching and deodorizing to remove the rancid smell. The use of chemical solvents is omitted in expeller-pressed canola oil. In this process, the oil is pressed or squeezed out of the plant. Canola oil is marketed a “heart healthy” oil but also carries a long list of unhealthy traits tied into genetic modification.
Refined Coconut Oil
Unrefined coconut oil is the equivalent to virgin olive oil which has the least amount of processing involved. Refined coconut oil is baked, dry milled, and then bleached by clay filtration to kill off bacteria and impurities to produce a neutral taste. In the refinement process, nutritional value can be decreased. Refined coconut oil is a cheaper alternative to unrefined coconut oil and has a longer shelf life which makes this product attractive to food producers. If you want coconut flavor, select unrefined coconut oil.
Is sunflower oil good for you?
As with any processed vegetable or seed oil, there is a nutritional difference between refined and cold-pressed. How the sunflower oil is processed is not described on the packaging of Beyond Burger, but cost effectiveness might suggest the refined option was chosen. Sunflower oil contains no beneficial omega-3 fats which can help reduce inflammation in the body, but it can be high in omega-6 fatty acids, which can promote inflammation and increase risk for disease. By creating a hybrid sunflower seed through selective breeding, a mid-oleic sunflower oil was created which is widely used in processed foods. Oleic acid is an Omega-9 monounsaturated fatty acid which claims health benefits such as assisting in weight control, alleviating type 2 diabetes, reducing blood pressure, and increasing good HDL cholesterol.
Yeast extract – a healthy MSG??
There are many speculations that yeast extract is simply a light version of MSG and to some extent these two processed food ingredients share similar makeup and functions in food. In the initial processing stage of creating yeast extract, glutamates naturally occur when the yeast is paired with sugar and initiates a natural formation process. Glutamates are a form of amino acid and naturally occur in products such as aged cheese. In the additional processing that occurs to make yeast extract, the cell walls of the yeast are removed and what remains are the valuable proteins, vitamins, minerals, and amino acids.
MSG is a separate product that is further refined to remove the proteins from the yeast extract and is highly concentrated to produce a type of bullion flavor. With proteins intact, glutamates are easily absorbed in the body. When the proteins are removed, they act a free radical in the body and can initiate medical problems and disease in the body.
Both MSG and yeast extract serve the same purpose in processed food. They trick the brain to believe the flavor of salt and other tastes in the food product are enhanced. When trying to convince a broad range of consumers they will enjoy this meat alternative product, this is an important food additive to the manufacturer, but offers questionable health benefits to the consumer.
Potato Starch & Non-GMO Modified Food Starch
Starches are used in processed food as a thickening agent. Potato starch offers a gluten-free option, however during processing to a starch, most of the vitamins and minerals found in whole potatoes are diminished. Modified food starch is used to provide texture to low fat foods. Unless a food starch is made from wheat, labeling laws allow for the generic term “food starch” to be used, so the base for the non GMO modified food starch is not disclosed. Typically this product is made from wheat, corn, potato or tapioca (cassava) – all of which have been subject to genetic modification.
Beet juice extract (for color)
There is much hype how red beets are a new super food and many supplement products have been developed to capitalize on the marketing hype. The health benefit claims for beet juice include improved stamina, helps lower blood pressure, contains natural antioxidants, good source of vitamin C and minerals, and even the promise that it could help prevent cancer and slow the progress of dementia. So with these health benefits in mind, having beet juice extract in the Beyond Burger formula would give the consumer a positive view about this ingredient.
All potential health claims aside, as listed on the packaging of Beyond Burger, the purpose of this ingredient is for color. In order to attract meat eaters, the idea is to convince the consumer they are eating red meat, so the beet juice simulates that juicy blood-colored fluid that oozes out of a hamburger patty as it is frying in a pan. As asked earlier, is this a simulation a vegan wishes to imitate? Do non-meat eaters really want to pretend they are eating meat?
Cellulose – A Beneficial Indigestible Carbohydrate?
All natural plants contain cellulose which is a complex carbohydrate known as a polysaccharide which serves as a dietary fiber in whole grain foods and green leafy vegetables. Because cellulose is not water soluble, the fiber passes directly through the gastrointestinal tract with little breakdown and helps push other foods through the intestines and colon. This insoluble fiber provides a feeling of fullness, which is why whole foods are encouraged for weight loss diets.
Natural plant cellulose can provide a role in health maintenance. So what exactly is the methylcellulose found in the Beyond Burger? Methylcellulose is manufactured by taking chemical compounds from vegetable cellulose and heating it with a caustic solution (sodium hydroxide) and then treating it with methyl chloride (a flammable gas). In food, methylcellulose serves as a gelling agent when food is heated and helps to keep ice crystals from forming on the food product during refrigeration or freezing. Methylcellulose is also made from wood pulp, cotton, and also bamboo. Bamboo cellulose is identified as an ingredient in the Beyond Burger. There has been negative press questioning the health value of cellulose in food products to create texture and prevent ingredients from caking. Without knowing the initial plant origin and growing methods of the natural material used to make cellulose, some allergy or health side effects can result from ingesting cellulose products.
Additional Additives to the Beyond Burger
Review after sampling the Beyond Burger
Before hearing our opinion about this new meat alternative we should be give the disclaimer that we are moderate meat eaters, although we rarely eat beef products. However, we also don’t mind eating vegetarian and vegan foods either. After all, we are vegetable farmers.
After removing the plastic wrapping covering the perfectly formed pink patties, a smell of smoked meat filled the air. The top texture of the patty somewhat resembled ground beef or turkey. We fried our patties in a cast iron pan with a bit of olive oil for the recommended time of 3 minutes on each side. The spatula slid easily under the burger and they flipped over without losing their shape. When we pressed the spatula on the meat, a light pink liquid oozed out, which somewhat imitated the bloody juices that escape a beef burger while cooking. The beet juice extract used to imitate this process provided just enough color to satisfy a beef burger fan and yet perhaps not offend the vegan.
After cooking, the inside of the Beyond Burger had a light spongy and grainy texture. This texture was also evident during chewing, and we definitely did not feel like we were eating a beef burger. The processed aspect of the burger was evident like fillers were added to the meat to make the entrée stretch. The main taste that dominated was a smoky flavor. We are currently eating low carb, so we opted not to eat the burger with a bun. Even without the extra bread, we did find the burger made us feel full.
Even though we went in with a few reservations and stigmas out about eating a lab built burger, the experience was not horrible. Will we seek out this product in the grocery store? Probably not, simply because there are too many fillers and additives which can result in inflammation and allergies.
The Beyond Burger offers 20 grams of protein. A consumer can receive 20 grams of protein simply by eating 1 cup of cooked split yellow peas, so a healthy bowl of split-pea soup or side dish of peas would provide a comparable amount of protein. We slip organic plant based protein into our homemade snack foods and veggie burgers made with actual fresh vegetables.
Is the Beyond Burger Healthy?
Researching each ingredient that makes up the Beyond Burger was very informative. We were pleased not to see the word nitrate in the ingredient list, however there are many additive ingredients that we would prefer not to include in our diet, even on a moderate level. Each consumer should carefully read ingredient labels on food packaging to determine their own level of tolerance for processed food.
As a plant based alternative food, a more positive image would be created by seeing a certified organic label next to the Non-GMO claim. Just because the initial seed was not genetically modified does not mean that pesticides are not used on the plants used to make up this burger.
If the Beyond Burger was the only food available to eat during a catastrophe or apocalypse, yes we would eat the Beyond Burger. However, thanks to all the local farmers who diligently produce high quality meat and vegetable products, we still have alternatives to lab produced faux meats. We are curious to learn how vegans will embrace the idea of eating a burger that bleeds like meat, so this will be a talking point to explore with our farm market customers.
Hello gardeners. We are James LeValley and Cathy LeValley, owners of New Earth Micro Farm and passionate gardeners of fast and easy growing using small spaces. Waiting 3 or 4 months for a vegetable to grow - not for us. Growing micro and mini vegetables in 10 to 60 days provides a quick turnaround to support organic growing methods for greater nutrition.