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Get Grilling: Hamburgers head to head

Grilling aficionado Hugh Kruzel delves into the world of plant-based burger patties
Toronto Chef David Lee has generated much buzz with his plant-based dishes. Number one has been the upscale Planta Burger with ingredients including smashed mushrooms, ground beets and black beans, topped with smoked queso cheese. Photo Hugh Kruzel at Planta Yorkville location

You have seen the ads proclaiming “meatless burgers” and now sausages too are meat-free.  

So no meat… what instead?  Recently you can observe the more confident statement “Plant based Burgers” or “made with 100% plant-based protein” from several national and international fast food chains.  “Beyond Meat” posters decorate bus shelters and the exterior and interior of some establishments. 

What is actually “Beyond Meat”?  They once were fried tofu or lentil hockey pucks of pea protein, coconut and canola oil, but now the recipe includes blended pea, mung beans, and for a more fibrous texture, the addition of rice proteins. 20 plus elements are blended to deliver, charring, chewiness, colour, and complexity.  

New products from US colossus Cargill, Maple Leaf Foods, Tyson, Nestle, and Impossible Foods have a succulence and chewy resistance plus an imitation of the marbling of beef.

These burgers are not just for die-hard vegetarians.  Enter the flexitarians, fake flesh fad, reducitarians who are happy with half angus, half science experiment. In 2019 nearly 30 per cent of Canadians want to eat lower on the food chain. 

Have you tried any of these offerings?  Asking staff of one burger joint what their menu item tasted like drew a blank response.  Not one of the persons behind the counter had any words of encouragement. 

Not even one timid thumb up. The cashier acquiesced “I’ve never tasted one … it’s not my kind’a thing,” she acknowledged. Her colleagues’ scrunched up noses certainly were even more telling.

A bit more prodding and it turns out their product knowledge was limited; none had ever actually had a bite of this cow-friendly patty.  

Beyond Meat's CEO and Co-Founder, Ethan Brown: "Tomorrow is about plant-based protein … the demand for meatless options are increasing.” Brown believes it is partially about making healthier lifestyle choices but also as alternative for our changing world. 

These words are echoed by local grocer Ken Desjardins of Metro Val Caron. 

“It’s still a small percentage, and yes the market appears to be young couples and even young families with kids, but this year I’ve seen a major upswing of appeal and demand across all age groups is growing. On average I’d say 1 in 25 purchases of burgers is not meat based.” 

That was June. 

Add the Canada Day weekend and kaboom the trend escalated. A recent report indicates a $5-billion to $8-billion market will swell to $12-billion in 4 years

So, the challenge was to see what all the brouhaha was about. At Trendy Toronto restaurants like PLANTA the burgers look juicy, have texture similar to meat, and deliver satisfying flavour, alluring aromatics and a burst of spice.  How do you achieve that on your own grill?

Buying Yves’ soy patties now seems a poor substitute.  Most vegan burgers always were a compromise. Now iron-rich heme, and beet-juice extract mimic the essences that squish out and down your chin with that first bite, and fats enhance the faux.  

In taste tests, some win praises like “springiness” and others earn “rubbery” or even “vile” from a Globe and Mail trial group. 

Interested? Go and grab a box or package and stack up the patties one against the other. I truly believe it is a very personal choice.  

Hugh Kruzel is sharing his love of grilling with readers.