Food

The good, the grainy and the greasy: Our food expert reviews 11 meat-free burgers

Read about how these plant-based patties stack up, before you head out to get yours.

Read about how these plant-based patties stack up, before you head out to get yours

(Feature credit: iStock/Getty Images; all other photography by Jessica Brooks)

I ate my way through most of my teens and twenties as a vegetarian, rolling up to summer barbecues with 4-packs of pre-cooked vegetarian burgers under my arm. Back in the comfort of my own home, I reconstituted meatless burgers from a dehydrated garden-patty mix. It's not so much that the taste of either was very memorable, but packaged meatless burgers any way will always remind me of my youth. 

Flash forward a couple of decades, and I'm eating meat now — although, just like you may be, I'm trying to cut down. This has reunited me with veggie burgers. Like that couple who gets married twice, our romance has been rekindled. I regularly make them from scratch now; thankfully my kids approve most any meal I serve as a burger, sandwiched in a bun. 

It was part curiosity and part nostalgia — and partly this assignment —that recently led me back in the grocery store aisles to admire the wide selection of plant-based burgers offered now. I feel like Sleeping Beauty must have felt when she first woke up. Look how much things have changed! But how do all these breakout stars with their health claims actually stack up in taste?

I have the answer.

I set out to try them all, or as many as I could find, and took notes on how they cooked, served, and tasted. I also compared ingredient lists, which varied greatly. Here are my results, so you can go out and eat the best meatless burgers out there now too.

YVES Lentil and Quinoa Patties

What's in them: Lentils, quinoa, bulgur, brown rice, corn.

What diets they're good for: Vegetarian, vegan.

The results: These burgers were quite thin compared to the others I tried and I actually started cooking them double-stacked in the pan before realizing they were two stuck together. Their bright yellow flecks of corn were promising (so fresh and healthy!), but when I bit into them I found them to be limp and lifeless — the opposite of fresh.

While cooking, the patties themselves became concave in the middle, although that was unnoticeable once the bun was on top. The most prominent texture was the grainy bulgur, and the flavour a fast rush of overabundant spices, most of them indistinguishable. And because these burgers were so skinny, I had to pull out a piece of them to actually be able to taste them properly, otherwise most of the flavour was swallowed by the bun. 

As for the kids, forget about it. Not sweet enough. 

President's Choice The World's Best Meatless Burgers

What's in them: Soy protein concentrate, onion, ketchup, along with things like modified milk ingredients and modified cellulose.

What diets they're good for: Vegetarian.

The results: I would put these in the "just like beef" category — that category of meatless burgers that aspire to taste and feel like meat (and don't always deliver). Meat-like in texture, these claim to have a notable 29 grams of protein – but also 640 milligrams of sodium, which did concern me a bit; the Yves Lentil and Quinoa Patties above clock in at about half that. 

This burger was a good size, easy to cook, and even developed a lovely layer of caramelization on the outside, similar to how a hamburger behaves. I found all the burgers that I tried in the "just like beef" category delivered a mild metallic aftertaste, which I guess is just how their processed, plant-based proteins taste.

What did my kids say? Nothing! I called it meat and they believed me, even removing the burger from the bun to enjoy it dragged through ketchup. 

Beyond Burger

What's in them: Pea protein, rice protein, mung bean protein, natural flavour, sugars.

What diets they're good for: Vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free.

The results: These were another burger from the "just like beef" category, and I'd heard rumours that they were the best. I tried not to let preconceptions sway me, but I was impressed off the top by their umami/meat-like smell as they cooked. 

They contain 29 grams of fat, with 5 of those being saturated, so they won't help you if you're limiting meat to cut down on that. But if you're looking for a meatless burger that tastes like beef, these could be it for you. They even ooze meat-like juices during cooking. They retained more moisture than the President's Choice The World's Best Meatless Burgers, and contained almost half the amount of sodium. My kids summed them up with these two words: nice and sweet.

Big Mountain Foods Original Veggie Patty

What they're made of: Yellow split peas, lots of vegetables like carrots, green peas, red pepper, along with sunflower seeds and chia seeds.

What diets they're good for: Vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free.

The results: These patties were tender and cooked quickly in a skillet, and unlike some of the others, they didn't come with instructions for grilling on the barbecue, where I expect they'd fall apart. Their box suggested turning them into teriyaki pineapple burgers. I didn't do that, but I could see it working well. They were large and hung over the sides of my standard-sized buns, and I am not complaining. I liked their nutty and honest, yellow split pea taste. My kids, however, found them too "mushy", so I guess their supple texture isn't for everyone.

President's Choice Lentil Bean and Quinoa Burger

What they're made of: Brown rice, mozzarella, Parmesan, lentils, and some other ingredients I am less familiar with, like modified cellulose.

What diets they're good for: Vegetarian.

The results: Let's get something out of the way: I love arancini. You know those Italian rice balls often rolled from leftover risotto? I loved that these burgers reminded me of those. They were soft and cheesy, with a sharp yet sweet note from the Parmesan.

The problem becomes that these were basically like eating arancini on a bun, which may not appeal to all. But the cheesy smell these emitted during cooking may be enough to win you over. It did my kids, who were also impressed by the cheese bubbling out. I liked that I could pronounce most of the ingredients, and since we're comparing, this still comes in at roughly half the sodium amount of the soy-based President's Choice burger that we tried

Morning Star Farms Spicy Black Bean Burgers

What they're made of: Black beans, brown rice, corn, bulger, green chilis, jalapeños, dried egg, and unclear things like "natural flavour".

What diets they're good for: Vegetarian.

The results: These were oily and smelled of grease while I was cooking them. These claimed to be spicy, but I found them barely to be at all. That's fine for me, but I felt the flavour of this burger lacked complexity; all they tasted of was mild spice. 

Looking at their texture, the whole black beans and corn against a backdrop of plant-based puree was too much of a contrast, and the middle became rubbery and unappealing once cooked. What did the kids say? Sorry, but no way. 

Dr. Praeger's Gluten-Free California Veggie Burgers

What they're made of: Carrots, onions, green beans, oat bran, zucchini, spinach, peas, roasted garlic, arrowroot powder, cornstarch.

What diets they're good for: Vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free.

The results: This burger came recommended to me by a few people, and it was easy to find at both a Costco and a Real Canadian Superstore nearby (to me, in Toronto). It was mostly a crowd pleaser, mild and colourful, although the kids dismissed it just for that — its visible veggies. 

Like the burger we tried before it, it did release grease while I was heating it, but it didn't taste greasy in the end. Rather, it seemed fresh and healthy. Looking at the label, it has only two grams of protein, which may fall short for some, if that's what you're after. And it was soft, so it wouldn't work on the grill, but it could work to satisfy your clean-eating craving. 

Deep Indian Gourmet Vegetable Masala Burgers

What they're made of: Potatoes, carrots, green beans, bell peppers, corn, cellulose gum, ginger, sugar.

What diets they're good for: Vegetarian, vegan.

The results: These pretty, turmeric-yellow burgers looked good, but lost points for feeling kind of spongy. Their cooked texture reminded me of a falafel. They did have a well-balanced flavour profile, even if they were a bit too sweet from the added sugar. 

The downside was that they were packed with vegetables cut a bit too big, and these almost toppled out when you bit in. I thought that maybe their sweetness and falafel resemblance would appeal to the kids, but it didn't.  

Sol Cuisine Extreme Griller

What they're made of: Soy protein, natural flavour, caramel colour, signature superfoods blend (fava bean protein, maca powder, lucuma powder, mesquite powder), evaporated cane syrup. 

What diets they're good for: Vegetarian, vegan.

The results: I get why this is named the "extreme griller". Its packed texture would do well on the grill, although I cooked ours in the skillet, as I did with the others. It had a mottled appearance, umami flavour — like others in the "just like beef" category — and it too leaked juices as it cooked. 

I would say this meatless burger was right up there with the Beyond Burger, but I'm happier with this burger's 6 grams fat content, compared to Beyond Burger's 29 grams. If I had to compare them neck-to-neck, which is kind of the point of this, I was impressed by this healthier version, but I preferred the looser pack of the Beyond Burger which, to me, mimicked beef a little better. 

Wholly Veggie Southwest Beet

What they're made of: Beets, black beans, onions, red pepper, dried egg white, potato starch, cornstarch.

What diets they're good for: Dairy-free, vegetarian, gluten-free, soy-free.

The results: These made-in-Canada burgers are pink! Thanks to beets… the very thing may also be their downfall. I mean, you've gotta like beets to like these, and be excited about their earthy flavour. I'm into beets in odd places, especially in cake, but I didn't find they did much for this burger. 

During cooking, these developed a thin, bread-like skin on their outside, similar to what happens to a pancake once it hits the pan. The springy texture of their insides weren't much better, and neither were the whole, mealy black beans it encased. 

The kids said: forget it… although wait. Is that burger pink?!

Amy's California Burger

What they're made of: Mushrooms, onions, bulgur, celery, carrots, wheat gluten.

What diets they're good for: Vegan, vegetarian.

The results: These 91-per-cent-organic, oversized pucks may look dismal and brittle when they go into the pan, but they were easy to heat and delivered the same reliable results in a toaster oven. Anyone with a connection to the dry-mix burgers of my youth will find these tasting the most familiar. But if OG meatless burgers aren't your thing, then these may not be either. 

I adored these for their deep and savoury mushroom flavour and the popping texture of the bulgur. They offered a hint of cheesiness too, which I can't explain because they're totally dairy-free. They do contain 500 milligrams of sodium, which is higher than some of the others, but I guess that's what helps them taste so good. And where they fell short in the colour department, they made up for in wholesome flavour. My kids, on the other hand, couldn't get past their grainy surface. 

(One of my testers, for reference.)

Love these unbiased reviews? Check out this article on sweat-resistant sunscreens tested for CBC Life! 


Jessica Brooks is a digital producer and pro-trained cook and baker. Follow her food stories on Instagram @brooks_cooks.

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