Veggie burgers, in the sense of patties made entirely out of such ingredients as legumes, mushrooms, grains, and nuts, have been around for thousands of years, especially in Asia and the Middle East. (Falafel is one example.) The modern-day version had its beginnings, though, in London in the late 1960s or early ’70s — in the form of the VegeBurger, invented and served by one Gregory Sams at his macrobiotic restaurant SEED.
Today, companies like MorningStar Farms, Amy’s, Dr. Praeger’s, Neat Meat, Hilary’s, Gardein, and Boca combine a wide assortment of vegetables and other non-meat ingredients in a variety of ways to make patties that are cooked and served just like those made from ground chuck.
About a decade ago, however, two new enterprises out of California introduced products that changed the non-meat-burger game. Beyond Meat, which counts Bill Gates and Tyson Foods among its investors, launched in Los Angeles in 2009. Two years later, in Oakland, Impossible Foods appeared, also with funds from Bill Gates, as well as from such celebrities as Jay-Z, Katy Perry, Kal Penn, Jaden Smith, Serena Williams, and Will.i.am.
The big difference with their products was that, unlike previous examples of the genre, they attempted — with reasonable degrees of success — to imitate the flavor and texture of actual ground beef. Both of their vegan burgers even “bleed,” leaking the same kinds of red juices you’d expect from a beef burger that wasn’t overcooked.
Today, an ever-increasing number of fast food and casual restaurant chains have been adding imitation beef burgers to their menus, mostly from one of those two companies. They’re also becoming available in supermarkets, and Blue Apron has recently introduced Beyond Meat into its home meal kits. The giant international food company Nestlé is about to enter the competition, too, with its Sweet Earth-branded Awesome Burger and Awesome Ground products.
Though more closely resembling the real thing, these imitations aren’t likely, any time soon, to take their place among the most iconic items at America’s largest fast food chains.