My first taste of a veggie burger was 20 years ago, when I discovered the Gardenburger. Made mostly of grains, mushrooms, and cheese, it was the shape of a burger, but tasted nothing like its ground beef counterpart. And for a long time, that was the case for most veggie burgers!
But all that's changed now with the introduction of Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, two plant-based burgers that, with a few toppings and a good bun, might just fool a meat eater.
What Are the Ingredients of Impossible and Beyond Meat?
Even though both brands launched within the past decade, they’re two entirely different animals (no pun intended). Impossible Foods makes a gluten-free burger made largely of soy protein concentrate, coconut oil, and sunflower oil, along with genetically engineered heme that gives it its meat-like quality.
Beyond Meat, on the other hand, is mostly built on pea protein, expeller-pressed canola oil, coconut oil, and seasonings. It’s not genetically modified and is free of soy and gluten.
Are Impossible and Beyond Meat Healthy?
From a nutrition standpoint, Impossible and Beyond Meat stack up quite similarly to beef (see below for a side-by-side comparison). That said, there are a few notable differences:
- Beyond has significantly less saturated fat than both ground beef and Impossible Burger. That’s the “bad” fat associated with heart disease and inflammation, according to the Centers for Disease Control, so less is more in this case.
- While beef has zero carbohydrates and no fiber, Impossible and Beyond have a few grams of fiber per serving. This is also a plus, since most of us don’t get enough fiber.
- Both Impossible and Beyond Meat are much higher in sodium than ground beef, since they’re effectively pre-seasoned. Once you salt a beef patty, the numbers will be more aligned.
|80/20 Beef||Beyond Burger||Impossible Burger|
|Serving Size||4 ounce||4 ounce||4 ounce|
|Saturated fat (g)||8.5||5||8|
Are They Better for the Planet?
The real argument for eating plant-based burgers has to do with the environment far more than nutrition. Impossible and Beyond are simply more sustainable than meat. According to Sophie Egan, author of How to Be a Conscious Eater: Making Food Choices That Are Good for You, Others, and the Planet (March 17, 2020, Workman), “All together, the whole operation of feeding, raising, slaughtering, and transporting livestock accounts for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector -- every plane, train, and automobile combined.”
In other words, beef is tough on the planet. Both Impossible and Beyond have a far lighter environmental footprint. Consider, for example, a 2018 University of Michigan assessment that found producing a Beyond Burger uses 90 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions and 99 percent less water than a beef burger.
There is also the animal welfare part of the equation, since eating a plant burger doesn’t require the slaughter of livestock. For plenty of folks, this is the most compelling motivation of all.
As to if, when, and why eat plant-based burgers, registered dietitian Liz Weiss, host of Liz’s Healthy Table podcast and blog, suggests, “When it comes to diet, I’m all about choice. Plant-based burgers provide options for vegans and vegetarians or people who love the flavor and texture of traditional beef burgers but may be trying to cut back on their red meat consumption. Personally, I really like the flavor of Beyond and Impossible burgers.”
Taste and Texture
Of course, not everyone agrees with Liz. It’s all very personal and there is only one way to find out if plant burgers are for you. In my own house, both Impossible and Beyond got a thumbs up during an informal taste test. Our group of four was split right down the middle in terms of preference. Ditto for the poll I hosted on my Instagram feed (I also heard from a few folks who don’t care for either option at all).
Here are a few of my own general observations:
- The appearance and texture of the Impossible Burger is more like ground meat than Beyond.
- When raw, both burgers appear marbled with fat like ground beef.
- When cooked, both burgers have a juicy quality reminiscent of meat.
- It’s clear that what you have isn’t beef, exactly, but under cover of cheese, pickles, and ketchup, these burgers may pass as the real deal.
Pound-for-pound, Impossible and Beyond Meat are more expensive than beef. A quick scan online found standard ground beef about 43 percent less expensive than Impossible and Beyond Meat.
If you’re measuring them against organic or grass-fed beef, those margins grow smaller, but ground beef still edges out plant burgers from a cost perspective.
How to Cook with Impossible and Beyond Meat
In my experience, both Impossible and Beyond cook up pretty similarly to ground beef, even if they don’t taste exactly the same. Below are a few tips that may prove useful.
- Since Impossible and Beyond Burger is pre-seasoned, hold off using additional salt before cooking. Black pepper and other seasonings are fair game, but let individual diners salt their burgers to taste if more is needed.
- Like you do with animal protein, take care not to overcook the burgers or they will be dry. I found two to three minutes per side on a grill or skillet over medium-high heat was plenty of time.
- Lightly oil your cooking surface before laying down the burgers, otherwise they are likely to stick.
- Don’t limit these plant-based meats to just burgers. They work anywhere you might use ground beef, from old-school tacos to Italian meatballs. Arguably, the layers of flavor from herbs, spices, onions, garlic, and chiles make the dishes taste even closer to their meaty counterparts.
Here are a handful of recipe ideas where you might try using Impossible or Beyond in place of beef:
Homemade Veggie Burgers
Plenty of folks argue that the best option of all is to make your own plant-based burgers. They will likely be less expensive with plenty of nutritious upsides.
According to Liz Weiss, “Plant-based burgers are not really plant powered. While they’re made with ingredients like pea protein, potato starch, and brown rice, they don’t stack up to homemade veggie burgers, which are often made with smashed beans, whole grains, and other veggies like finely diced bell pepper or shredded carrot. A veggie burger that you make yourself delivers on fiber, protein, potassium and B vitamins while plant-based burgers like Impossible and Beyond won’t be as nutrient rich.”
Here are five homemade veggie burger recipes.
- Curry Spiced Lentil Burgers
- Black Bean Burgers
- Pesto White Bean Veggie Burgers
- Green Goddess Veggie Burgers
- Portabello Mushroom Burgers
- Both options have a much lighter environmental footprint than beef and obviously sidestep animal welfare issues.
- These are highly processed foods.
- Nutrition alone isn’t reason to swap out beef, though Beyond Meat does have less saturated fat.
- You can cook with these plant-based meats as you would ground beef.
- Whether or not you like the taste is entirely personal. Try it and see.
- If you don’t care for Impossible or Beyond Burgers and want to eat plant-based, make your own homemade veggie burgers.