In 2016, Whole Foods shelved a 100% plant-based patty in the meat aisle. This exceptional patty is the Beyond Burger, which Beyond Meat had spent seven years perfecting the recipe. Ethan Brown, CEO of Beyond Meat, certainly had a grander plan in mind than just making another veggie patty, stating, “We’re not making meat substitutes, we’re recreating animal protein.”
Beyond Meat’s marketing strategy to sell Beyond Burger alongside real meat had generated much buzz. When it debuted in 2016 at Whole Foods, the first batch sold out in an hour. Some may consider it merely a marketing gimmick, but the Beyond Burger is indeed not much different from real beef. Many media outlets have raved about the product. Tasting Table writes, “you can see fat visibly rendering in the pan.” Foodie Magazine points out that it has the “exact fibrous and tensile texture of its ground beef counterparts” because “its exterior had that crucial satisfying brown crust, and biting into the patty revealed a pink and juicy middle” which may “fool even the most experienced and ardent carnivore.”
How can the Beyond Burger be made so meat-like simply with plants? It replicates the composition of meat in terms of the appearance, aroma, taste, texture and juiciness.
One of the most significant breakthroughs is to make the burger cook like other burgers – a red squishy patty gradually changes into a delicacy with a brown crispy coat and pink juicy core upon heating. To recreate this effect, the Beyond Burger research team employs two fascinating techniques. First, to make the “raw” burger “bleed” like real beef, they infuse it with beet juice. Then they mimic the colour change during the heating process with Maillard reaction – the reaction engendering the complicated colour and aroma of beef when amino acid in protein is cooked with sugar. After 7 years’ development, the research team finds out that the Maillard reaction of pea protein is not only the most similar to beef, but it also enhances the aroma of the ingredients. This explains why the burger smells exactly like real meat while being pan-fried.
The raw Beyond Burger patty
So the Beyond Burger looks and cooks like real beef. What about its taste? Ultimately, it is the taste that drives consumers to buy a product. “It’s hard to reduce flavour and aroma to an equation,” explains Joseph Puglisi, Professor of Structural Biology at Stanford and lead scientific advisor for Beyond Meat. Yet, Beyond Meat has successfully unlocked the secret down to the molecular level of science. “The flavours in meat are the result of a reaction of about 600 different molecules,” Brown told Digital Trends in an interview. “We’ve studied those molecules to identify similar molecules in the plant kingdom and combine them in the same way, so they give you that aroma and flavour.”
To reproduce the mouthfeel of a juicy patty, the distribution of “fat” in the burger was the trickiest because “plants don’t have ligaments”, according to Professor Puglisi. Made with an intricate balance of plant fats, the Beyond Burger has the right texture – it blends pea protein with canola, sunflower and coconut oil, allowing the burgers to caramelise and retain moisture when grilled. Furthermore, with canola oil and coconut oil contributing to the fat content, the patty is less greasy than a beef patty. This makes a juicy but healthy burger ready to serve.
So, with the power of science, have we finally nailed the plant-based meat that is the same as real beef as far as nutrition is concerned? In fact, the Beyond Burger is above par – it is packed with 20 grams of plant protein, which outweighs the traditional beef patty and is equivalent to half of the daily protein intake a person needs. It also contains the iron content double that of beef, but with zero cholesterol, hormones, nor antibiotics. With this burger, Brown aims at a future fulfilling a growing global taste for meat with plant-based options that offer health and environmental benefits and improving animal welfare.
The Beyond Burger in Hong Kong
The demand for the Beyond Burger is so big in the US that it still hasn’t been sold nationwide. However, to tackle the surge of meat consumption in Asia, Beyond Meat has selected Hong Kong as its first overseas market. According to Livestock and Poultry: World Markets & Trade 2016 Report, Hong Kong, with a citizen devouring 100lbs. of beef on average in 2016, is the worldwide top 3 meat consumption per capita. Brown said, “We hope with this first step into Asia, we can bring greater awareness of the shifting protein paradigm to this vitally important economy.” Speaking of Green Common’s sole distributorship of the Beyond Burger, David Yeung described this cooperation as the marking of “the official beginning of the food, health and sustainability revolution in Asia.”
Originating in the US and hopefully expanding globally, the Beyond Burger is undoubtedly a game-changing plant-based product in our meat-obsessive society. And how much disruption will it induce in the plant-based industry? Maybe just like its name, it will be ‘beyond’ everyone’s imagination. Beyond the amazing burger, we have another absorbing envision: what is the next revolution? A T-bone Steak? “That may be a long way off,” Brown said. “But nothing’s impossible.”