A few months ago, when the weather was pleasant and the dogs weren’t tracking snow through the house, we threw a little soiree with a few of our closest friends. We told them we would feed them and give them free booze if they would come over and help us with a little project for the blog. If you follow us on Facebook (and you should if you’re not – we know you’re on Facebook, everybody is on Facebook), then you know I’m talking about our Veggie Burger Rating Party.
We started at our local Publix, which really does have a decent selection for vegetarians when you consider that vegetarians are the pariahs of the culinary world (my opinion). We decided to start with four different brands. We bought MorningStar and Boca, of course, since those seem to be the vegetarian standard in any supermarket freezer, Amy’s All American Burgers, and the real crap shoot, Publix Greenwise Burgers.
I should say that all of our friends that took the bait are omnivores. So, when you factor that into the ratings, it’s actually quite fascinating. Andy and I are, more or less, loyal to one burger brand so this was as much an experiment for us as the rest of our meat-eating gang. We grilled our chosen four, anonymously labeled them, and served them up with all the typical burger accoutrements. Immediately, there was a burgery line of demarcation; those attempting to mimic meat, and those that embraced the ‘veggie’ in veggie burger. I, probably because my tastes are more attuned to expect a veggie flavor, preferred those that didn’t try to be meat. In fact, the Boca Burger, with it’s heavy meat-smoked flavor, set of my poison alarm, and I immediately spit it out. Terrible, it tastes like dog treats smell… I’ll ignore the middle grounders for the sake of brevity (you can see my ratings in the included graphs), and mention that my absolutely favorite was… The Publix brand. Yes! I was so shocked when the brands were unveiled that I didn’t believe it. I figured the dog treat burger was the Publix burger. We now buy those cheap ole store brand burgers. Our meat eating buddies, on the other hand, seemed to prefer the meat mimicking brands. They stated that as their reason of preference. At least we were able to unload that nastiness on them, because we certainly weren’t going to eat those things. As I type this, the thought of those burgers is triggering my pregnancy nausea.
At home we usually buy Amy’s Brand stuff. Melissa likes the California burgers, and I like Texas burgers, but in either case we usually cook them on the stove. So it was an interesting to me to try four brands side by side on the grill. My process was bare bones, using only a basting brush, a little olive oil and a charcoal grill. It seems that the main stream brands put some thought into the barbecue setting as the MorningStar burgers seemed to get really juicy and moist on the grill. Boca and Publix both were in the middle and seemed to do well, while Amy’s All-American looked downright bad, as if it were just drying out over the fire.
The scoring was done like this: each person had a score card with the sections A,B,C and D. In each section they had room to score -5 to 5 on taste, texture, and overall experience, and there were a few lines to comment on their rating if they wished. The burgers were grilled up, and put on lettered plates. The tasters were allowed to eat them plain or dressed, as long as they were consistent for all four samples.
BEST TASTE: Publix GreenWise Market – Garden Style Veggie Burgers
BEST ON THE GRILL: MorningStar Farms Grillers Original
WORST: Boca Original
As you can see from the first graph, it looks like the overall winner was the MorningStar burger. This surprised me since in my notes I wrote “it tastes like I remember microwaved Salisbury steak tasting”. Which is to say edible, but I would not recommend it. So, to figure it out I dug into the numbers a little deeper. The second graph shows the breakdown of the scores by taste, texture, and the vague “overall experience” category. Here you start to see a much better picture. It shows that the GreenWise brand won in overall taste, but it’s irregular texture and chunky veggies lost it a few points to the much more even MorningStar patty. Furthermore, you see that the big loser was the Boca, which scored negative in taste and overall experience. A fact that was clearly stamped on the from of the MorningStar box. The general consensus on the Amy’s All-American burger was that it was just too unique. My worries that it dried out on the grill were unnecessary. They tasted just fine, but everyone the strong red-pepper flavor of them was strange and made it hard to compare to the others.
Once we began discussing, it was clear that we, the vegetarians, are much more opinionated on veggie burgers than the relatively even tempered omnivores, and the graph above illustrates that fact. It reminds me of a conversation I had some years ago with my friend Andrew. He was buying vegetarian boneless ribs (Side note, someone should start a company to make fake ribs with a fake plastic bones inside, compostable of course. Oh, and I want my cut for the idea.) and I asked him, why get something that does a second rate job of pretending to be meat when there are plenty of options that can substitute for meat without trying to taste like meat. His response something like this “There are some great options out there, but there also people who like the taste of meat, but choose not to eat it for ethical reasons or health concerns.” So, while a Boca burger left me asking “why do they even make these?” apparently our meat-eating pals would consider buying them in the future.
MorningStar seem to grill the best, and the taste is okay, but the problem with both of the major brands is that when you design your flavors to fit a wide array of tastes, you end up with something mediocre. Publix store brand gets my overall best vote. Being a store brand it probably has a relatively small distribution, but that probably gives them the room to target the veggie/green-living market with visible chunks of veggies, etc. So, next time you are in your freezer isle, know that there are essentially two types of veggie burgers. Look for clues to determine what which you are dealing with. Boca brand? Keep Walking. Fake grill marks? Pass! Vegetables and whole grain ingredients rather than just textured vegetable protein and liquid smoke? Buy!