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Vegieburgers: stalking the perfect VLT.

Vegieburgers: Stalking the Perfect VLT

Imitation meat. Extruded, textured vegetable protein. Beef-flavored rubber bits. Alpo . . . If vegetarian burgers conjure up these images, hold on to your tastebuds. There's a new generation of vegieburgers at your local natural foods co-op . . . maybe even your supermarket.

Whoever designed the old-fashioned products obviously had meat in mind. Some of the fake meats look like the real thing. Some smell authentic. If only you didn't have to taste them.

The most charitable description our less-than-distinguished panel of CSPI staffers could come up with was "wet vinyl." "Tastes like Gainesburgers" was the worst.

You can still find these products, which often come packaged in cans (Loma Linda's Redi-Burger) or milk-carton paper boxes (Worthington's Granburger). The main ingredients, typically wheat gluten or textured vegetable protein, should tip you off. If not, names like "Numete" or ingredients such as "artificial beef flavor" and "caramel coloring" are dead giveaways.

TURNING OVER A NEW BEEF

Modern vegieburgers are designed for anyone who eats little or no meat, yet still craves something to top with lettuce and tomato and stick on a bun (whole wheat or rye, of course).

A number of companies, with upbeat names like Natural, Inc. and The Soy Deli, are eager to help out. Their frozen or quick-mix creations vary enormously in taste, texture, and ingredients--not to mention nutrients. Here are a few vegieburger rules of thumb:

* Vegetable burgers have much less saturated fat and cholesterol, and much more fiber than hamburgers. They also have less protein (that's a plus, unless you're feeding extremely finicky five-year-olds) and less iron and zinc (that's a minus; you'll have to get these nutrients from other foods).

* If the first ingredient is tofu, the fat content is high--probably around 55 percent of calories. That's still not as bad as ground beef, which gets anywhere from 58 percent (extra lean) to 66 percent (regular) of its calories from fat. And since tofu is made from sybeans, its fat is mostly unsaturated. That's O.K. for your heart . . . but not your waistline.

If your overall diet can accommodate the fat, the burgers made by Natural, Inc. and Soyfoods, Bud Inc. were particularly tasty. More like corn fritters or potato pancakes than hamburgers, but tasty nonetheless.

* None of the burgers made with tempeh (cultured soy-beans) as a major ingredient supplied nutrition information. But tempeh gets only 35 percent of its calories from fat, compared to tofu's 55 percent; an advantage . . . at least nutritionally.

But palate pleasers they're not. Our testers quickly learned to identify the tempeh burgers by their "sour" or "glutenous" taste, and invariably tossed them into the "bad" category. They come across as poor imitations of the imitation meat-burgers.

THE FIVE BEST

Our nutritional goal was to find burgers that get no more than 35 percent of their calories from fat. While that may sound a tad high (your daily limit should be no more than 20-to-30 percent), a vegieburger-on-a-bun would get a smaller percentage of calories from fat, since the bun adds about 120 calories but little fat.

We also disqualified any product that has more than 450 mg. of sodium per serving.

Here are our Five Best Burgers. Our company, Fantastic Foods of Novato, California, swept the awards with four out of the five.

GARDENBURGER

Pop them into a toaster, skillet, microwave, or conventional oven. Wait as little as one minute, but no more than six, and sink your teeth into our candidate for top VLT ("V" is for "vegieburger").

And what are the chances of that VLT becomin a McVLT?

To find out, CSPI's Michael Jacobson sent Gardenburger samples to seven fast-food chains, as an example of a tasty vegieburger. He suggested they consider adding something similar to their menus. Only Denny's responded (". . . we do not receive many requests for this type of product and feel the average midscale user is unfamiliar with this concept").

Yet Gardenburger's manufactrer, Wholesome & Hearty Foods of Portland, Oregon already supplies some 70,000 per month to restaurants, airlines, hospitals, sports arenas, schools, and other eating places.

The predominant ingredient (and taste) is mushrooms. Then come onions, oats, cheese, brown rice, egg, and a few others. The cooked burger is low in fat (two teaspoons) and sodium (137 mg.), and a significant source of fiber (two grams). Each 2.5-ounce patty costs about $1.05.

NATURE'S BURGER (ORIGINAL)

Browh rice, oats, sesame seeds, yellow peas, wheat, vegetables, soy sauce, nutritional yeast, salt, and spices. That's what goes into this dry mix you combine with boiling water, then stir, let cool, and pan fry (we used a non-stick pan).

What comes out is a spicy, moist patty that's relatively low in fat (one teaspoon) and sodium (248 mg).

At 28 cents for a 3.2-ounce burger, you can't go wrong.

NATURE'S BURGER (PIZZA)

How Fantastic Foods got ingredients like dehydrated potato, onion, tomato, garlic, grains, and peas to taste like pizza is a puzzle. The smidgen of Parmesan cheese and touch of oregano in the dry mix may have helped.

The best thing about this "pizza" is that each serving has only 1/5 of a teaspoon of fat. The only bad thing is the sodium, which tops 400 mg.

NATURE'S BURGER (BARBEQUE)

Unlike the pizza burger, our panel couldn't identify this flavor. "Smoky" was as close as they got to "barbecue."

Like its pizza twin, the barbeque burger is low in fat. But with a high 423 mg. of sodium per 2.7-ounce serving, this dry mix is less than perfect.

TOFU BURGER

In this somewhat deceptively-named product, Fantastic Foods supplies the toasted brown rice flour, corn meal, etc. but you have to add the tofu.

The result is much lower in fat (34 percent of calories) than other tofu burgers. That translates into 2-1/2 teaspoons of fat per patty. Soy sauce, miso, and hydrolyzed vegetable protein lift the sodium to 362 mg.

As you might expect, the flavor of the burger is strongly influenced by the tofu you use (ours was a bit sour).
COPYRIGHT 1988 Center for Science in the Public Interest
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1988, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
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Author:Liebman, Bonnie
Publication:Nutrition Action Healthletter
Date:Oct 1, 1988
Words:1002
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