what is a vegan burger

What is a Vegan Burger?

What is a Vegan Burger

A vegan burger is a burger that contains no animal products whatsoever. Sauces with no animal product buns with no cheese and everything in-between. They may look and even taste as though they have meat, but they DO NOT. Even products that have adverse effects on the animal world are avoided if you are to be a true vegan. It’s a lifestyle, not just a food choice.

Vegan burgers are also called veggie burgers. A vegan burger is a healthy alternative for people who love their beef burgers also. A burger can be made in different ways – the vegan burger is one of the variants.

Recognizing the market for veggie burgers, many fast-food stores have added vegan burgers to their menu. You can now buy vegan burgers at your favorite fast-food chain or make your own if you have the time. Needless to say, vegan burgers that are made at home are healthier than the store-bought ones.

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Vegan Burgers Have Come a Long Way

After decades of masquerading burgers that tasted like cardboard or didn’t grill, vegan burgers have gone mainstream. These burgers have become so better now that fast-food stores – including the likes of Burger King, Carl’s Jr., White Castle, etc. – carry them and do not shy away from advertising them. And with the soaring demand, profits are increasing too.

A major reason for this popularity is not just the improved taste but also the dramatic shift in people’s thinking. For several years, people have been opting for vegetarian and vegan foods for animal welfare reasons. However, in the more recent past, people are realizing how their food choices impact the environment and their personal health as well.

Veggie burgers were first made commercially available during the early 1980s in London. An Oregon-based vegetarian restaurant later came up with an innovative veggie burger, called Gardenburger, in the States. The trend has slowly but surely picked up from there, with a lot of restaurants and fast-food outlets embracing the vegan burger over a period.

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What are Vegan Burgers Made Of?

Vegan burgers are typically made from whole grains, vegetables, and legumes such as lentils or beans. Unlike a conventional burger, a vegan burger is packed with a range of minerals and vitamins. The fiber content isn’t remarkably high – the average vegan burger offers two to three grams of fiber. However, it’s still better compared to beef burgers that have zero fiber content.

Grains usually function as the meat substitute. Grains, such as wheat and rice, provide protein components and carbohydrates and also lend the patty its bulk. Grains also offer the burger its texture, which could vary based on the grain used. The burger gets its major share of protein from beans, peas, soy, lentils, and/or gluten. While these protein sources are not completely healthy, they do not cause the environmental, health, and ethical issues that arise with animal meat.

Vegetables such as carrots, corn, and mushrooms offer the patty taste and texture. In addition, they provide moisture upon heating. This ensures the disc-shaped patty doesn’t break easily. Dry ingredients, like flours, oats, breadcrumbs, and nuts, help absorb excess liquid and moisture. This results in the patty remaining intact and not disintegrating.

To stabilize things, stabilizers such as vegetable gum and tapioca starch are used. Tapioca starch is used for its thickening properties. Also, it’s pretty cost-efficient. Once wet, it gets sticky, which helps with holding the patty tightly together. Vegetable gum offers negligible nutrients. However, it also helps with holding things together.

Oils, such as coconut, olive, and safflower oil, help lubricate the mix and allow increased cooking when the wheat gets added. They, in fact, enhance the patty’s taste by bringing the flavors out. Oils could also mitigate the constituents from adhering to the machine.

To ensure these vegan burgers do not look vastly different from conventional burgers, these plant-based burgers are made to look like any other burger. Some even taste and function almost as their animal counterparts. The base of the burger could be just vegetables or a plethora of other things. If you are making your own veggie burger, you can mix and match ingredients to your heart’s content.

How Healthy are Vegan Burgers?

Compared to your meat burgers, a vegan burger is any day a healthier option. However, there are a lot more pieces to the puzzle. In other words, several commercially-made vegan burgers are notorious for being highly processed. They are generally high in sodium, posing issues for people who have blood pressure conditions. Several brands use saturated fats, refined oils, sugar, “natural” flavors, genetically-modified ingredients, along with a host of other not-very-healthy additives.

Several store-made vegan burgers also have potential allergens, such as wheat, soy, and nuts, besides milk or cheese proteins. With milk, cheese, and other dairy products added to the mix, these “vegan” burgers cease to be vegan – though they still are meat-free.

The positive side of all of this is that you can make vegan burgers at home using whole foods. For example, you may use lentils or beans, veggies such as cauliflower, to make your very own alternatives to plant-based meat. You could also use whole grains like barley, millet, and quinoa, mushrooms, tempeh, organic tofu, and seitan.

Despite all their shortcomings, commercially made plant-based meat alternatives are on the right path. They could be your ideal “transition foods” till you get over your fascination for meat or start eating less meat in general. Not to mention, these foods could let vegetarians and vegans relish realistic variants of comfort foods they were missing all this while.

However, a burger is more than just its patty. Even an extremely healthy patty wouldn’t serve its purpose well if it’s deep-fried in oil and served with a bun made from white flour. And there is also the ketchup sweetened by corn syrup and commercial mayo. You should, therefore, think of these vegan burgers as “treats” or cheat foods (if you’re on a diet) and not as diet staples.

How are Vegan Burgers Made in Stores?

As briefly mentioned earlier, vegan burgers are made from different ingredients, which include soybeans, whole wheat, rice, corn, black beans, mushrooms, lentils, zucchini, and carrots. Some stores add vegetable gum, tapioca starch, and other stabilizers. These are usually bought from third-party suppliers and processed in-house. Upon arrival at the plant, the vegetables and grains are thoroughly examined for quality. Decomposed or rotted specimens are thrown out.

They are then thoroughly cleaned to make sure dirt, chemical residues, bacteria, etc. are removed. This cleaning process could either be done manually or with the help of high-pressure sprayers or other machines. Another method used to clean the ingredients is the hollow drum technique. The process entails putting all the whole ingredients into a drum and then spraying on them to remove the dirt and debris.

The next stage is cooking the grains. A steam-heated mixer is used for the purpose. The mixer usually has oils in it. The grains are progressively added to the simmering oil and the mixer’s blades help mix the grains. The steam generated helps cook the grains, turning the grains into a puree.

Vegetables are then diced into smaller pieces so that they are thoroughly cooked and also do not take much time. The chopping could be done manually or with machines. The cut vegetables are later added to the steam-heated blend. The exact grains-to-vegetables ratio could vary across chains. This could lead to different tastes and textures.

As the vegetables get cooked within the mixer, they release their natural sugars, leading to caramelization. The flavors resulting from the caramelization are uniformly mixed in the mixer. This technique is referred to as mirepoix. The technique is critical to the making of vegan burgers since it adds both flavor and texture to the patty.

The mirepoix mixture is then put into a mixing tub, where oats, potato flakes, walnuts, and other dry ingredients are added. The mix is then worked on to create a uniform mixture. The moisture the vegetable release adds stickiness to the mixture, helping make clumps like cookie dough. This lets the vegan burger to adhere and form the patty.

The mix is then put within a patty-making press or machine. The machine punches the patties out as discs onto the underlying conveyor belt. Water may be constantly sprayed throughout the process to ensure the mixture doesn’t stick to parts of the machine. Once laid on the conveyor plate, the patties proceed to be laid onto baking trays.

Before baking the patties, they are inspected to ensure they are the right size, shape, and texture. These attributes are vital to produce a high-quality vegan burger. Once these parameters have been checked, the trays with the patties are placed into a convection oven for a designated period and at a certain temperature.

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After being taken out from the oven, the patties undergo quick freezing. Cryogenic freezing, individual quick freezing, and other techniques could be used for the purpose. These techniques incorporate several small ice crystals to help freeze the patties in 30 minutes, ensuring the nutrients are locked in and the texture preserved.

The frozen patties then get placed onto a conveyor belt and directed to another machine for vacuum-packaging. The packaging machine helps seal the patties in measured plastic sleeves, drawing out excess air, if any. These packages then get loaded inside printed cardboard boxes manually or using a machine. The box’s flaps are sealed to ensure the patties remain within a temperature-controlled environment before, during, and post-delivery to the fast-food chains or retail stores.