I was raised on a fully plant-based diet, and over the course of my life, I’ve tried a wide variety of veggie burgers, from the original iterations of the black bean burger (often the only plant-based option at restaurants growing up)—some of which were so bone-dry, they’d actually crumble—to my mom’s family-famous beet burger. I’ve watched happily as the market for vegan products has grown, and the veggie burgers have grown more diversified and delicious right along with it. But for a lifelong vegan like me, there’s been no innovation quite as exciting as the launch of the “alternative meat” Beyond Burger in 2016.
I can so clearly remember the first time my family and I (we’re all plant-based) got our hands on a package of the new “just-like-meat” vegan burgers at our local Whole Foods Market after years of hearing about their development. Together, we cracked open the package, peeled off the plastic covers, and popped the patties in a sizzling-hot pan, crowding around the stove to watch them cook. We’d heard countless times about how juicy they were supposed to be and how they’d “bleed” just like real meat thanks to the magic of beets—and we weren’t disappointed.
My first impressions of an alt-meat burger as a lifelong vegan
Despite my initial fascination with the Beyond Burger, once I was faced with eating what was, at the time, the closest thing to meat I’d ever tried, I suddenly felt a bit grossed out. It looked like meat, it smelled… well, not exactly like meat, but close, and it was definitely nothing like any veggie burger I’d had before. And that unfamiliarity was intimidating.
But once I got over my initial trepidation and finally tasted the Beyond Burger, I was quickly enamored. Compared to the vegan burgers I’d grown accustomed to at the time, the alt-meat patty was more tender, juicy, and flavorful and managed to get (and keep) a crispier exterior crust. And, oh yeah, no animal products were involved.
It felt like a revelation. Before the Beyond Burger, the only plant-based burger options available at the grocery store were patties marketed as healthy alternatives to “real” burgers rather than anything claiming to closely imitate meat. In fact, many of the frozen options at the time weren’t even called “burgers;” instead, brands opted for the more literal “patty” or “griller.” So it’s no wonder I was originally taken by the Beyond Burger and what I could only assume was its more burger-like taste and texture.
Why I now opt for old-school veggie burgers instead of alt-meat options
Upon reflection years later, the Beyond Burger saga seems a little ridiculous—but the faux burger really was that big of a deal to us. At that point, we’d read so much about it that it had become something close to mystical.
But as years have passed and alt-meat options have proliferated, the novelty has worn off, and I’ve found myself gravitating away from anything claiming to resemble beef and back toward old-school vegan burger options. These are also often healthier than their faux-meat counterparts and leave me feeling more satisfied and energized than a greasy take-out Impossible Burger or even a home-cooked Beyond Burger.
While I was so focused on both the Beyond and Impossible products, I’d been missing out on the serious strides being taken in the “traditional” vegan burger department.
I’ve also realized that while I was so focused on both the Beyond and Impossible products, I’d been missing out on the serious strides being taken in the “traditional” vegan burger department. Nowadays, there are plenty of brands offering up nutritious, superfood-packed veggie burgers that taste delicious, too. (No dry, crumbling hockey pucks to be found here.)
These tried-and-true staples don’t mimic the taste of meat the way Beyond and Impossible products do—and what I’ve realized since my infatuation with faux meat has waned is that they don’t have to. In my book, they taste all the better for going rogue and embracing a flavor profile all their own.
The 5 best frozen vegan burgers, according to a lifelong vegan
Dr. Praeger’s California Veggie Burgers — $7.00
A staple of the old-school veggie burger scene, Dr. Praeger’s was founded by two heart specialists in 1994. And the flagship Dr. Praeger’s California Veggie Burger checks all the nutritious boxes: It’s chock-full of vegetables like carrots, zucchini, string beans, broccoli, and bell peppers that you can actually see and taste. Plus, despite the high veggie content, these burgers don’t get mushy in the pan; they’re very much able to develop a crunchy exterior when pan- or air-fried.
Hilary’s Organic World’s Best Veggie Burgers — $5.00
Hilary’s Organic World’s Best Veggie Burger is packed with a plethora of actually-visible vegetables. Bits of kale, spinach, sweet potato, and onion sprinkled throughout the whole grain millet-based patty make this burger one of the most visually appealing on the list. Apart from being a nutritional (and longevity-boosting) superstar, millet is naturally gluten-free, and so is this burger. In fact, it’s free from the top 12 most common food allergens, making it a safe option for anyone managing allergies.
Amy’s Organic Black Bean Veggie Burger — $10.00
I know I bad-mouthed black bean burgers above, but Amy’s Organic Black Bean Veggie Burger breaks the mold. It’s full of flavor thanks to an assortment of spices and herbs including chipotle pods and cilantro, as well as other add-ins like balsamic vinegar, green chiles, and jalapeño peppers. Plus, like most Amy’s products, all the ingredients in this burger are USDA-certified organic.
MorningStar Farms Garden Veggie Burger — $5.00
Long-time vegans and vegetarians will recognize the MorningStar Farms Garden Veggie Burger as a summertime grill staple. Much closer to the “meaty” texture of a Beyond or Impossible Burger than other choices on this list, this burger has a patty made of wheat gluten and soy protein for that characteristic chew. Still, it doesn’t skimp on the veggies, as it contains sizable chunks of red and green bell peppers, mushrooms, onions, and crunchy water chestnuts.
Dr. Praeger’s Mushroom Risotto Veggie Burger — $7.00
I couldn’t help but include a second Dr. Praeger’s product on this list, as the veteran vegan-burger makers really know their stuff. A more savory alternative to the California option, the Mushroom Risotto Veggie Burger has ingredients like wild rice, roasted portobello mushrooms, roasted garlic, celery, parsley, and truffle oil. And this combination makes it feel like a meal regardless of whether you dress it up on a bun with the traditional lettuce, tomato, and condiments, or make it the centerpiece of a balanced dinner plate.
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