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Blended Burger Project Just a Glimpse Into Larger Meat Alternative Movement


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Photo Courtesy of the James Beard Foundation

New York’s food-focused James Beard Foundation is working to make food both more delicious and more sustainable with its Blended Burger Project. Adding mushrooms to burger creations is not only a more flavorful option with less calories; it saves time and money by replacing meat with plant-based proteins, according to the foundation.

The Blended Burger Project began in 2014, requiring participants to have at least 25 percent mushrooms in their blended creations to participate. In partnership with the Mushroom Council, the initiative aims to combine healthier eating with more sustainable food practices, reducing meat consumption by adding plant alternatives.

After more than 250,000 votes were cast between Memorial Day and July 31 this year, critically acclaimed judges including Susan Westmoreland from Good Housekeeping and TV personality Andrew Zimmern deliberated over the 20 burgers that got the most votes. Only five won, and will serve their blended burgers this October at the James Beard House in NYC.

These five include a Thai burger from The Bearded Chef in Palm Bay, Florida; a goat cheese and balsamic concoction from Burgh’ers Restaurant in Pittsburgh; a blended venison patty on a pretzel roll served up by the Courtyard Cafe at Raymond James in St. Petersburg, Florida; a Tex-Mex rendition by Curb Side Bistro in Odessa, Texas; and a brisket and crimini mushroom patty from Toltec Brewing in Albuquerque.

Burgh'ers balsamic and avocado blended burger.This meat alternative-focused phenomenon is gaining popularity slowly but surely, as statistics spread and sustainability moves to the forefront of consumer priority. It takes much less energy and resources to produce plants than meat. According to the Water Footprint Network, it takes approximately 1.8 gallons of water to produce a pound of mushrooms compared to 1,800 gallons of water for a pound of ground beef—and a blended burger also has less fat and fewer calories.

The savory and umami flavoring of mushrooms have made them the perfect pairing with ground beef or turkey, or even venison and brisket. So popular is the mushroom movement that fast-food franchise Sonic released its own take earlier this year.

The Sonic Signature Slingers are 30 percent mushrooms blended with beef, on a brioche bun and under 350 calories. Topped with either tomato and lettuce or bacon and mayo, the blended burger options are some of the first in the fast-food industry.

Adding chopped mushrooms to burgers not only makes them healthier, but also adds moisture and flavor. According to the World Resources Institute, it’s also an extremely environmentally-responsible option: if 30 percent of the beef in all burgers in the U.S. were replaced by mushrooms, it would be the equivalent reduction in greenhouse gases of taking 2.3 million vehicles off the road.

Offered at just $1.99, Sonic’s new burgers “deliver the juicy savory deliciousness you expect from a burger in a way that makes you feel like you’re getting away with something,” said Scott Uehlein, vice president of product innovation and development, in a press release.

Whether that means you can feel good about slashing calories or carbon emissions, it’s clear that blended burgers have gone mainstream.

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Tom KaiserTom Kaiser is senior editor of Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3209, or send story ideas to tkaiser@franchisetimes.com.
 
Beth EwenBeth Ewen is editor-in-chief of Franchise Times. She can be reached at 612.767.3212, or send story ideas to bewen@franchisetimes.com.
 
Nicholas UptonNicholas Upton is restaurants editor at Franchise Times. He can be reached at 612.767.3226, or send story ideas to nupton@franchisetimes.com.
 
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Mary Jo LarsonMary Jo Larson is the publisher of Franchise Times Magazine and the Restaurant Finance Monitor.  You can find her on Twitter at
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