Big Yawn Burgers

Recently I wrote about lab meat, a product that uses bovine fetal serum (BFS)–blood extracted from living fetal calves–to feed meat protein molecules grown in a laboratory.

Now let’s turn our attention to two other imitation meat products new to the market, which the press has heralded as breakthroughs in fake meat: the Beyond Burger and the Impossible Burger. Will these new products overcome the observation that veggie burgers are “tasteless pucks?”

Burgers

In this post, we will focus on the Beyond Burger, which advertises itself as “The world’s first 100% plant-based burger that looks, cooks and satisfies like ground beef.”

The ingredients: 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), citrus fruit extract (to maintain quality) and vegetable glycerin.

The company has made a few changes, according to an article in the Washington Post—amusingly titled “Little flecks of ‘fat’ put Beyond Meat’s burger a big step closer to beef”—adding bits of cocoa butter, mung bean and rice proteins, and apple extract (so that it browns better when cooked), which “improves the taste and texture of the burgers.”

Beyond Burgers are sold in a few national restaurant chains and in grocery stores.  The Silver Diner uses the Beyond Burger glop for burgers and meatballs, with a vegan meatloaf coming soon. With all the hype, the stock price has soared, up to $186 per share since its initial $25-per-share IPO.

Is the Beyond Meat burger healthy and safe to eat?  According to blogger David Gumpert, “I know many people here hate the idea of artificial-any-food, but I take a different view. So long as it’s made from healthy and natural products—in this case, a variety of plant items—I say go for it, if there’s a market for it. From all I can tell, Beyond Meat is much healthier than any of the meats put out by the Big Ag companies with their antibiotic-laden products from their polluting CAFOs.”


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Are Beyond Meat burgers made with “healthy and natural products?” Let’s take a look, starting with pea protein isolate. Here’s a description of how it’s made:

The isoelectric precipitation process for pea protein isolate production consists in milling of the peas, solubilization of the proteins in 30 – 50°C water adjusted to pH 8 to 11 with a base, followed by centrifugation to remove the insoluble components. Starting material for the protein solubilization step can also be the pea residue resulting from the starch extraction process. The pea proteins present in the supernatant are then precipitated out at their isoelectric pH (4.2 to 4.5) by addition of a mineral acid, and they are recuperated by a second centrifugation step. The curd is suspended in water to remove the sugars and minerals and after reconcentration by applying a third centrifugation step, it is neutralized to pH 7 with a dilute base and dried using a spray-dryer to produce an isolate. The isolates produced by isoelectric precipitation have poor solubility (Vose, 1980) possibly due to protein denaturation and to their high phytic acid content which alters the solubility of plant protein isolates especially at low pH. This process also requires large amount of water (extraction, washing of the curd and neutralization steps) and generates significant volume of effluents (isoelectric precipitation and washing steps) making it more or less attractive from an environmental point of view.

https://www.researchgate.net/figure/Isoelectric-precipitation-process-for-production-of-pea-protein-isolates_fig6_28418706

Please note that this process denatures the proteins and contains a high phytic acid content—phytic acid blocks the uptake of important minerals like iron and zinc, already low in pea protein. (A regular burger contains a lot of zinc and iron, and in forms that are easily absorbed, not blocked by phytic acid.) Mung bean and rice protein isolates are manufactured in a similar fashion.

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More importantly, the peas have not gone through the critical process of soaking and cooking, which gets rid of pesky tanins and enzyme inhibitors, so expect digestive distress if you are eating a lot of Beyond Burgers (or maybe even one).

Making protein isolates requires a large amount of water, generating a “significant volume of effluents.” In other words, like beef raised in CAFOs, you need a lot of water to make a Beyond Burger, and the run-off is polluting.

The main oil used is canola oil, bound to be GMO and loaded with glyphosate. (And remember that glyphosate is an antibiotic, every bit as harmful to your gut flora as the antibiotics given to cattle in feed lots.)

There’s nothing wrong with the coconut oil, probably the only “healthy and natural” ingredient in the Beyond Burger.

A total of eight ingredients– yeast extract, maltodextrin, natural flavors, succinic acid (made with genetically engineered organisms), acetic acid, , beet juice extract (for color), citrus fruit extract (to maintain quality) and apple extract—provide flavor components, and all are likely to contain free glutamic acid, otherwise known as MSG.  A burger made with real meat gives us that real umami taste with the simple addition of salt.

I suppose I could say something sarcastic about the modified food starch being non-GMO. . . but I’ll forbear.  However, I do wonder about the inclusion of cellulose from bamboo and methylcellulose—humans can’t even digest cellulose! More chance for digestive distress after a Beyond Burger meal.

Bottom line, there’s nothing to celebrate in Beyond Burgers—they’re made of the same ole’, same ole’ combination of isolated proteins, industrial seed oils and MSG-laden flavorings.  Better to call them Big Yawn Burgers. The one innovation is the beet juice extract, to make the burgers look like they’re bleeding. Let’s stock up for Halloween!

The stock reached a high of $186, then fell back to $137.  The price is climbing up again but I predict that we will see a slow decline as people realize that this yucky stuff is no better than the original “tasteless puck” veggie burgers. Maybe folks will get a warm and fuzzy good feeling about saving the environment, but that may soon evaporate with the tummy ache and headache (from all the MSG) that is bound to follow.

The Weston A. Price Foundation encourages the consumption of nutrient-dense, environmentally friendly real beef from pasture-raised animals.

1 thought on “Big Yawn Burgers”

  1. Thank you Sally!

    An excellent assessment and commentary exposing the misguided belief in ‘healthy and natural products”!

    Is it somewhat surprising that others who have presented extensive understanding of real foods (like pasture-raised milk) seem to be willing to swallow canola oil wherever it may be listed (among the illusions of so-called “natural” ingredients) and apparently without a whimper? ………

    This knowledge of how pea protein isolate is manufactured deserves to “go viral”! Imagine a documentary here! (Think of “Koyaanisqatsi: Life Out of Balance” and the food processing scenes captured in this 1982 film.) The more eyes wide-open as to all food manufacturing the better! If that takes cinematography and music as an art form then may the cultural creatives come forth!

    This reader would like to know “the psychology of food” that food manufactures apparently attempt to satisfy in their marketing a “100% plant-based burger that looks, cooks and satisfies like ground beef.” Originally “burger” had a different meaning than what it may have today: “a sandwich consisting of a bun and a patty of grilled hamburger meat” attested by 1909, short for hamburger sandwich (1902). Shortened form burger attested from 1939″[1]

    Can the whole truth regarding “natural flavors” be featured in an article? On a couple occasions this researcher encountered non-disclosure under the color of some kind of “proprietary” confidentiality. That will change when the people regain their Lawful sovereignty over corporations and demand the full-disclosure or have the corporate charter revoked.

    [1] https://www.etymonline.com/search?q=burger

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