Burger King is joining the ranks of fast food chains and retailers offering plant-based burger options, but how good of a facsimile are they to the real thing?
The restaurant began to roll out the Rebel Whopper in Europe last month, with plans to bring it to the UK "very, very soon", which is very, very vague. The patty itself is vegan, but it's cooked on the same grill as the beef burgers and is served up with regular mayo, so by the time it gets to customers, it's not so vegan anymore.
Hopefully when it hits global menus, BK will have realised that flogging vegan burgers soaked in beef juice is somewhat counterproductive, and with the option to 'have it your way' - as the chain is always harping on about - when that day comes, you can just ask for the mayo to be left off and get a bone fide vegan meal. Fingers crossed.
Meanwhile, over in the U.S., Burger King's not-so-vegan vegan option comes courtesy of the Impossible Burger which hasn't made its UK debut yet. That's because one of its ingredients is still awaiting approval; the soy-derived protein called heme that makes the burgers taste like meat, basically. You can watch a video all about it for more details or head over to Impossible's website to read more.
The Impossible Whopper is being touted as almost indistinguishable from its bovine cadaver-sourced counterpart, and as someone who often opts for vegetarian options to avoid gross meat-related things like gristle, too much fat, those disgusting little veins in chicken, and generally wondering where the meat I'm eating has come from, a fast food burger that takes all of that out of the equation sounds like a godsend.
I'm the kind of meat-eater that'll opt for a Gregg's vegan sausage roll because firstly, I'm fairly certain that meat shouldn't be that shade of grey - or any shade of grey, for that matter - and secondly, only 18 per cent of its sausage rolls are actually pork, so that's me put off straight away.
Being in Texas over Christmas, I thought I'd do the decent thing and give the Impossible Whopper a whirl to see if it's any good, and how it stacks up to the original Whopper. Behold!
My veggie options at BK have historically been limited to the spicy bean burger, but that was years ago and I have no idea if that's even on the menu anymore. It was decent enough, especially in the days when vegetarian options were limited to some really funky tasting faux meat, or a medley of extremely al dente vegetables hammered into a patty shape and covered in breadcrumbs. So I was hoping for something on par to the bean burger, or better.
The two Whoppers looked mostly the same after they were unwrapped, although the Impossible patty appeared to be slightly larger than the beef. I ordered both off the menu as they came, which means that the Impossible Whopper was most definitely not vegan. Both patties were joined by cheese, tomatoes, lettuce, mayonnaise, ketchup, pickles, and white onions, on a sesame seed bun. Yum!
The plan of attack was for my burger buddy and I to do a blind taste test. He's a New Yorker in Texas, and subsequently is a is an absolute meat fiend when it comes to his food. I like meat, but can take it or leave it.
After some deceptive rustling of wrappers to throw him off which burger I'd scooped up first, I shoved the Impossible Whopper into his face hole and he was confident enough to immediately call it out as the vegan option. I went ahead and followed it up with the OG Whopper anyway, because smooshing food into grown-ups' mouths who have agreed to help you for work and can't really complain about it is a joy I will not be denied. He stuck by his guns and was, of course, spot on.
It was my turn next, and I was fed the original Whopper first - which tasted unmistakably beefy - followed by the Impossible Whopper. There's a difference. Any marketing campaign that's showing people on the street being hoodwinked by the vegan patty and squawking over how much like the real thing it tastes is a load of old twaddle. That's not to say it isn't a tasty burger. It just doesn't taste like beef. At all.
It does taste flame-grilled, which is the defining flavour profile of the Whopper, so that was on point. The heme not only serves to provide the umami meat taste, but also creates the 'bleed' effect of real meat. Neither of my Whoppers sported the tiniest fleck of pink as I'm sure Burger King doesn't want to be dealing with millions of lawsuits from people claiming to have got sick, so I can't weigh in on the fake bleeding - thank god. Anything under medium-well makes me queasy. I'm a philistine, I know.
The texture was meaty, but it lacked the springiness of the beef Whopper. It still held together nicely and this was probably the feature that was closest in terms of mimicking a beef burger patty.
For someone like me, who's discerning about their meat to the point of being categorised as picky (I'm not. You're just an animal who'll eat anything) the Impossible Whopper had a great texture, and tasted just fine. The edges were a little on the crispy dry side - another giveaway - but it was flame-grilled and delicious.
Asking my carnivore friend to chime in, he was pleasantly surprised and impressed. While he said he wouldn't order it over a beef burger and that they definitely did not taste the same, he did say that if he was in a scenario where he could no longer eat meat - health/religious/ethical/good old-fashioned cow uprising - he'd be happy enough to chow down on the Impossible Burger instead.
TL;DR: In short, anyone that's telling you that the Impossible Burger tastes like a beef burger has either lost their mind, their taste buds, or is currently picking up a cheque for their role as 'flabbergasted man who can't actually believe that this is not a cow burger'.
It's a tasty veggie option with a savoury flavour of its own, paired with a nice, meaty texture. If you want it vegan, you'll need to take off the cheese, mayo, and ask for it to be prepared using a “non-broiler method” which means 'not on the grill' in English.
A non-flame grilled burger with no cheese or mayo probably isn't going to taste as good, but if you're taking it home, you can just pop your vegan equivalents on and enjoy. Otherwise, you can just lump it until they stop farming cows and we're all forced to eat soylent green or become vegans instead.
This post originally appeared on Gizmodo UK, which is gobbling up the news in a different timezone.