Meatless ‘meats’ seem to be all the rage in Singapore; are they healthier than real meat and how do they taste?
The question “Have you tried the Impossible Burger?” is being whispered across dining tables all over Singapore. Last year Green Monday introduced Singapore to a few meatless meat options: the pea protein Beyond Burger, plant-based Omnipork, Gardein and Daiya. Then soy-free mycoprotein Quorn had a revival. Now, the new soy-based Impossible Burger from the U.S offers yet another meatless way to enjoy meat at a fraction of the environmental impact.
As more of us are becoming savvy to how our meat is made and how animals are treated in the process, the call to go vegetarian or vegan has never been more strong. It’s shocking but 45% of the land surface of Earth is used as land for grazing and raising livestock, or growing crops to feed them. So these plant-based meats aim to reduce our negative environmental impact and at the same time the claim is that eating less meat is also healthier for us.
The idea here is not necessarily to choose one meatless option over the other, but to choose any meatless option over meat itself. But are these plant-based burgers tasty enough to pass as real meat? And are these meat-alternatives safe and healthy enough to feed to your kids? What’s actually in them?
If it’s not meat, what is it?
The Impossible Burger contains no gluten, no animal hormones and no antibiotics, and is halal-certified and kosher. Impossible Foods scientists discovered that one little molecule — “heme”— is uniquely responsible for that meaty taste. The heme in the Impossible Burger is made using a yeast engineered with the gene for soy leghemoglobin. Other key ingredients, aside from heme, include water, soy protein concentrate, coconut oil, sunflower oil and natural flavours. Nutrition-wise, a quarter-pound Impossible Burger has no cholesterol, and has 14 grams fat, 20 grams protein and 240 calories.
The Beyond Burger, on the other hand, is made with pea protein isolate and has no GMOs, soy or gluten. Its main ingredients are water, pea protein isolate, canola oil, refined coconut oil, plus minimal amounts of other ingredients like beet juice extract (to make it ‘bleed’). A four-ounce uncooked Beyond Burger patty will give you 20 g fat, 20g protein and 270 calories.
Both meatless options provide as much bioavailable protein as a comparable serving of ground beef from cows given an 80/20 beef patty has 23 grams of total fat, 19 grams protein and 290 calories.
What Does Meatless Meat Taste Like?
The Impossible Burger looks like real minced meat – it caramelizes on the edges when in a patty, and can be cooked to different rareness degrees. It even “bleeds” with a pink centre thanks to the heme. The Beyond Burger’s texture is slightly mealier but the centre also ‘bleeds’ due to beet juice. I’ve now tried Impossible Foods in a burger at Potato Head, in meatballs at Privé, and in a Beef Wellington at Bread Street Kitchen. While the Beyond Burger does taste like a meat-free alternative (but is still a great option for vegetarian burgers), I challenge you to discern the difference between real meat and the Impossible Burger. You’ll find it if you are looking for it but if you’re hungry and munching on a burger slathered with sauce and competing flavours – it’s likely you won’t miss the real thing (especially knowing the true cost of rearing real meat to our planet). Bread Street Kitchen uses the Impossible burger meat in their plant-based Beef Wellington, and here given it’s a large chunk of ‘meat’ you can taste a difference as well as discern the different texture as compared to real meat.
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Should we be concerned about eating Soy as a meat replacement?
Given that there are some purported health concerns with eating GM soy (found in the Impossible Burger), we asked Dr. Patrick O. Brown, founder of Impossible Foods, about this. His take is that after extensive research there has been no evidence that soy-based products cause any negative effect on our overall health (breast cancer concerns, effects on male hormones/fertility, and thyroid function) which he expands on here.
We also spoke to expert nutritionist Eve Persak of COMO Shambhala who disagrees, saying “Phytoestrogens do have estrogenic effects within the body. Researchers are still clarifying these effects – in different soy forms, ethnicities, genders, medical conditions, and time frames. As a replacement to beef, soy is definitely a savings – as soy’s phytoestrogens would have far less physiological impact than the intrinsic or added hormones in beef. However, other concerns exist regarding possible health and eco- risks with GMO foods (like soy). It’s not clear-cut case”.
Where can you buy meat-free meats?
Beyond Meat is available to buy at: Four Seasons Organic Market, Habitat, honestbee online, RedMart, Little Farms and NTUC Fairprice Finest, while Omnipork will be on sale early next year. If you want a meat-free restaurant dish look out for Beyond Meat dishes at: Grand Hyatt Singapore, Mercure Singapore on Stevens, Novotel Singapore on Stevens, Plaza Premium Lounge and The Fullerton Hotel Singapore, as well as restaurant chains Cedele, PizzaExpress, Prive and SaladStop!, Whole Earth, fast food joints Hello Baby and Wolf Burgers as well as independent eateries Carvers X, HRVST, Open Farm Community and Original Sin.
Impossible Burger is not available in supermarkets yet — it’s only available in restaurants including Park Bench Deli, Potato Head Singapore, Three Buns Quayside, Privé Orchard, Empress at the Asian Civilisations Museum, Bread Street Kitchen by Gordon Ramsay, CUT by Wolfgang Puck, Adrift by David Myers, Botany, Omakase Burger, Club Meatballs and more. Deliveroo will also be offering Impossible Foods as part of their take-away meals delivered to your door from various restaurants including P.S.Cafe, Veganburg, Kinki and VIOS by Blu Kouzina.
What are your thoughts on this meat-free meat?
I, for one, am all for trying to cut down on meat and eat more wholesome plant-based food in a rainbow of colours. So while I will be mainly sticking to vegetables in their whole form, I’d happily swap out real meat for these meat-free substitutes when I can for myself and my kids. I see it as my small part to play in doing what I can to help the planet. What about you — are you ready to try it?