I am not a vegetarian but I’ve always been somewhat intrigued by vegetables made to taste like meat. There are vegetarian Chinese restaurants in Hong Kong, where tofu steps in for chicken or fish. Then there are the vegetarian hamburgers, probably the most famous of which are made by Yves or Gardenburger.
A couple of years ago I read an article in the New York Times about a start-up from San Francisco that was setting out to replace meat — like, really replace it. To make a hamburger that is so similar in texture and flavor that one couldn’t tell it apart from actual beef, with the goal of satisfying the cravings of carnivores without the negative environmental impact.
There are actually two companies duking it out in this space: Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat. The “Beyond Burger” started at a few Whole Foods locations and select restaurants in San Francisco and New York City, and is now available in nine states, while the “Impossible Burger” is still a relatively tough find (you can get it at Momofuku Nishi in New York City). The companies have some big league investors, too, including Bill Gates, who has invested in both.
The New York Times published a follow-up article last year on Beyond Meat, when it was announced that conglomerate Tyson Foods was investing in the start-up:
I took a mental note of these companies last year, so was quite pleased to discover that the Beyond Burger is now available in Hong Kong. You can pick it up at Citysuper and cook them at home, or you can swing by Green Common which began serving two burgers using the Beyond Meat patty on April 7.
So how does it compare to an actual, juicy hamburger? Well, here is what it looks like:
I was a bit disappointed the burger came in a cardboard box, a la a Big Mac, which knocked the burger down a few notches on the photogenic scale (that won’t be going on Instagram). Green Common has two options: the Beyond Burger, which is the basic “meat” patty with a vegan bun, tomato and lettuce; I opted for the Beyond Burger Plus which also included avocado and Daiya vegan cheese, which was superb.
Picking it up was the first moment I became truly aware this wasn’t meat — it was simply too light. A big juicy burger usually has some heft, and this didn’t. After taking a bite, I found it pretty good, but would be tough to mistake for meat. The burger patty resembled ground beef, but was slightly drier and lacking the fats and flavor found in a high-quality burger patty. It had a smokiness to it I enjoyed though, and the avocado, cheese, and vegan bun resulted in a delicious combination (I asked for no tomato because, well, ewww). And perhaps that’s the point: making vegetables taste exactly like meat is going to be a tough ask, but if it gets close enough and is absolutely delicious, then the game has been won. While I wouldn’t mistake the Beyond Burger for an actual beef burger, I also wouldn’t hesitate to order it again.
So what exactly is in this faux burger patty?
Food startups have become an exciting niche in Silicon Valley as entrepreneurs look to lessen our reliance on animal farming. They correctly figured out that if true meat-lovers are to abandon their steaks and burgers, the alternative is going to have to be just as good, if not better. Beyond Meat isn’t quite there yet, but I get the feeling we aren’t too far away.