Veggieburgers and their meatless sidekicks in the frozen-foods aisle have always been more healthful than the hamburgers, hotdogs, and bacon they stand in for. They haven’t always been as successful, though, in the flavor and texture departments. Now, according to an exhaustive review in the March issue of the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s (CSPI) Nutrition Action Healthletter, consumers have an unprecedented variety of delicious meat-free choices. Unlike even “lean” hamburgers, which can have six grams of saturated fat in a broiled quarter-pound serving, dozens of meat-free patties earned CSPI’s “Best Bite” ratings by serving up less than a gram of saturated fat and no more than 400 milligrams of sodium.
Some products, like Morningstar Farms Grillers and Flame Grilled Hamburger Style Gardenburgers, have the traditional hamburger taste down pat — yet come without the risk of contamination from meat-borne contaminants like E. ColiO157:H7. Others aren’t trying to imitate hamburgers, but have Thai-, Italian-, or Mexican-inspired flavors. Quaker Maid’s Vegelicious Santa Fe, Morningstar Farms Spicy Black Bean, and Dr. Praeger’s Tex Mex, Veggie Pizza, and Italian patties are among those that fit the bill.
“Thanks to many of these products, consumers don’t have to sacrifice taste or texture if they want to make a healthier choice,” CSPI nutrition director and co-author Bonnie Liebman said. “Plus, these meat-free burgers go as easy on the environment as they do on your arteries. Products made with real meat or poultry typically require more land, water, pesticides, and fertilizer — and result in more pollution.”
Even meatless ground beef, meatballs, sausages, and hot dogs — which have been harder to pull off successfully — have made strides in the taste department. Imitation ground beef performs the best when it is used in tacos or spaghetti sauce, but at least one brand, Morningstar Farms Grillers Crumbles, tastes fine even on its own. As for imitation bacon, Liebman and co-author Jayne Hurley diplomatically suggest it has yet to reach its full potential.
The market for imitation chicken and fish is less robust than for red meat. Breaded nuggets and patties are easy to find (and tasty), but few products succeed in matching the taste and texture of unbreaded chicken or fish.
One notable newcomer to health-food stores is the Quorn line of products, made with the mysterious ingredient “mycoprotein,” that morphs into both “chicken” and “ground beef.” Quorn’s labeling practices led CSPI to file a complaint with the Food and Drug Administration. (The label calls it “mushroom in origin” but it’s fermented from a non-mushroom fungus.) While Quorn’s labels are deceptive, it’s flavor and texture are fine, according to CSPI’s palates. Their verdict? Tastes just like chicken.
Read what CSPI has said since publication of this letter at www.quorncomplaints.com