Made with beans, greens, and other vegetables, these burgers aren't pretending to be meat.
Published Dec. 7, 2022.
Have you been in the vegetarian section of the frozen food aisle recently? It’s changed a lot. With Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat leading the charge, there’s been a proliferation of vegetarian foods that aim to replicate the taste, texture, and appearance of meat. Plant-based burgers and vegetarian chicken nuggets are exciting developments, but there are times when we don’t want our vegetarian meals to resemble meat. After all, we like vegetables too.
Fortunately, there are plenty of veggie burgers made with beans, vegetables, and grains. They come in a huge variety of styles. Some are labeled “California,” a vague description long used for veggie burgers. Others tout specific ingredients or similarities to other foods: “super greens,” adzuki beans, falafel, and mushroom risotto. One new company advertises “thick cut” burgers with big pieces of vegetables. How do all of these options stack up? We purchased 12 frozen veggie burgers with the goal of finding several satisfying, flavorful options.
Vegetarian burgers continue to evolve, but they aren’t new. When tracing the history, people often point to a natural-foods advocate in London named Gregory Sams. In 1982, he created a powdered mix called the Vegeburger. Made of wheat gluten, sesame, soy, and oats, it had to be rehydrated and formed into patties before cooking. But, as Carol J. Adams makes clear in Burger (2018), many other veggie burger mixes and preformed patties came before it.
Seventh Day Adventists, with their commitment to vegetarianism, drove the development of meatless products as early as the 1890s. Adams points to “Nuttose,” a canned peanut-based product launched in 1896 that “could be sliced into patties, fried, and served.” Meat rationing during World War II brought soy-based burgers into supermarkets and fast food chains. Interest in tofu- and tempeh-based veggie burgers continued throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Meanwhile, Adams explains, cookbooks and coverage in major newspapers brought veggie burgers to a wider audience.
So how do the veggie burgers available today stack up? The ones we purchased contain a huge range of ingredients (though peanut-based products seem to have fallen out of favor). There are no strict distinctions between categories. Many contain a grain such as rice, bulgur wheat, or quinoa. With some, you have to squint to see evidence of a vegetable. Others look like someone scooped up a pile of greens or a handful of mixed vegetables and pressed it into a patty.
All of the veggie burgers cooked in a few minutes on the stovetop, making them a conveni...
The mission of America’s Test Kitchen Reviews is to find the best equipment and ingredients for the home cook through rigorous, hands-on testing.
Kate is a deputy editor for ATK Reviews. She's a culinary school graduate and former line cook and cheesemonger.