Look, if you’re going to be the lame guy or gal who shows up at the summer cookout with veggie burgers, you might as well be the lame guy or gal who shows up at the summer cookout with good veggie burgers.
Veggie Burgers That Aren’t Just Flavored Soy
When I started searching for different veggie burgers to review, I was overwhelmed by the number of choices. So many of them seemed so similar, and that’s because so many of them are based on soy.
I think soy is fine to eat in moderation. But it doesn’t taste like much, so somehow it seems like cheating to add flavors to it to produce fake meat. Kind of gross, actually.
So this taste test is a little different; it’s a taste taste for the non-soy-based burgers. These burgers are based on less-processed grains and vegetables, and as a result, they’re generally healthier than soy burgers, even if the protein numbers aren’t as quite as high.
Simply for comparison, I included one classic soy burger, Boca, in the test. All the burgers were prepared in a skillet with only a light layer of oil except Morningstar and Dr. Praeger’s, whose directions called for grilling.
And keep in mind: My nutrition grades are based on the needs of those training for marathons or other distance events. In other words, calories are a good thing (as long as they’re nutritious).
Read on to find out how these six veggie burgers measured up in terms of taste and nutrition.
Gardenburger Portabella Veggie Burgers
Main ingredients: Brown rice and vegetables, including portabella mushrooms
Per patty: 100 calories, 2.5 g fat (1 g saturated), 17 g carbohydrates, 4 g protein, 490 mg sodium
Gardenburger Portabella Veggie Burgers were one of the most flavorful brands we tested. They had a smoky, almost-but-not-quite-too-salty tang to them, with lots of chunks of vegetables, making for an appealing texture. All this flavor comes at a cost, though, in the form of 20% of your daily recommended sodium intake and a list of ingredients longer than—well, you get the point.
Sunshine Original Burgers
Main ingredients: Brown rice, sunflower seeds, carrots, herbs, sea salt (that’s all the ingredients)
Per patty: 190 calories, 13 g fat (1.5 g saturated), 14 g carbohydrate, 8 g protein, 320 mg sodium
Sunshine Burgers were the nutritional powerhouse of the bunch. The only competitor not to violate Michael Pollan’s five-ingredient rule, Sunshine also packed in healthy fats and a relatively high amount of protein in addition to being gluten-free. Unfortunately, the flavor outlook wasn’t so sunny: Everyone who tried Sunshine mentioned that it tasted bready and dry, with a little too much sunflower seed flavor.
Bahama Rice Burgers
Main ingredients: Risofu, the company’s proprietary rice-based meat alternative, and beans
Per patty: 140 calories, 5 g fat (1 g saturated), 19 g carbohydrate, 4 g protein, 420 mg sodium
Despite their name’s evoking images of a warm beach and a few bottles of Kalik, Bahama Rice Burgers didn’t fare so hot. We described them as “homemade-tasting, in a bad way,” “lentil-y,” and plain-old “not flavorful.” They are gluten-free, and the rice idea is kind of cute. It’s worth noting that Bahama Rice Burgers contain salvia hispanica, chia to you and me.
Boca Vegan Meatless Burgers
Main ingredients: Water, soy protein concentrate, wheat gluten
Per patty: 100 calories, 2.5 g fat (0 g saturated), 9 g carbohydrate, 13 g protein, 470 mg sodium
As the only “soy burgers” in the taste test, Boca Burgers stood out with huge protein numbers. (Ok, huge to us.) Unfortunately, it comes mainly in the form of soy protein isolate, a highly-processed and difficult-to-digest form. The list of ingredients after that is surprisingly short.
At first taste, I thought I had found a perfect substitute for a slightly-overdone burger; actual thought revealed that it was simply the familiar taste of charcoal. But if you’re craving a dry hamburger, Boca might be as close as you can get, short of slaughtering a cow.
Morning Star Garden Veggie Patties
Main ingredients: Mushrooms, water chestnuts, onions, more vegetables
Per patty: 110 calories, 3.5 g fat (0.5 g saturated), 9 g carbohydrates, 10 g protein, 350 mg sodium
Morningstar Garden Veggie Patties hit a homerun with everyone who tasted them. We described them as “sausage-like” and “not just tolerable, but actually good.” A little bit of spice and just the right amount of char made Morningstar our favorite brand to taste.
Nutritionally, they bombed. TVP, another highly processed form of soy, and a long list of ingredients with hard-to-pronounce words landed them near the bottom of the pile, in my eyes. Still, they taste good, and if you’re bringing a veggie burger to a barbecue, why not enjoy it?
Dr. Praeger’s California Veggie Burgers
Vegan? Seems like it, but processed in a facility that uses milk, eggs, and fish.
Soy-free? No, contains soybeans.
Main ingredients: Lots of vegetables, with onions and string beans first
Per patty: 110 calories, 4.5 g fat (0 g saturated), 13 g carbohydrate, 5 g protein, 250 mg sodium
Dr. Praeger’s California Veggie Burgers were just what the doctor ordered—if that doctor had ordered a mouthful of succotash shaped like a patty. Actually, I was the only one who didn’t love them; Erin and Christine ranked them near the top of the list. They’re billed as the burger “where you recognize all the ingredients,” and that I did. Lots of vegetables and little else made it taste like—well, a vegetable patty. And that’s good, it just doesn’t taste like a burger.
Interestingly, nowhere on the box does it say that Dr. Praeger’s burgers are vegan, yet no ingredients seem to make them non-vegan. Perhaps it’s that they’re processed in a facility that handles milk and fish? Worth looking into if your diet is very strict.
So, no clear winner swept both the Nutrition and Taste categories. Perhaps such a combination can only be found my making them yourself. (Though I have yet to find a homemade burger with the texture of these from the store.)
Do you have a favorite veggie burger that I left out of the test?
And finally, please check out my Zen Habits post if you haven’t yet. Thank you!
The Kickstart Plan includes:
- A 7-day meal plan, built around the foods worth eating every single day
- 14 of our favorite recipes that pack in the nutrition, taste great, and are easy to make
- Focused on simplicity and speed, to minimize stress and time commitment