A Hamburger Today
Taste Test: The Best Frozen Veggie Burgers
- The Original Gardenburger Veggie Burger
- MorningStar Farms Garden Veggie Patties
- Trader Joe's Veggie Burger
You want to know the honest truth? I've always been a fan of veggie burgers. Even when I was a devout meat-eater in my college days, I'd sneak the occasional veggie burger off the grill at the backyard barbecue, or I'd order one (topped with bacon and pepper jack cheese) from the old Miracle of Science grill in Cambridge. I also love making my own veggie burgers, whether it's a grain-based, 100% vegan burger, or a great black bean burger.
But there are times when I want what a veggie burger has to offer without having to go through the trouble of making the patties myself. Which supermarket brand is the tastiest and which come closest to homemade?
There are more varieties of veggie burgers out there than you can shake a stick of seitan at. To be clear, we distinctly did not set out to find faux-meat burgers. We're not looking for beef substitutes here.* Instead, we're on the hunt for veggie burgers that celebrate real vegetables and grains, and we selected nationally available brands that highlighted those ingredients. In cases where a given brand had several different flavor options, we selected those that were closest to that ideal.
*A faux meat-burger tasting is another test for another day.
With that criteria, we arrived at six brands for our taste test:
- Morningstar Farms Garden Veggie Patties
- Boca Grilled Vegetable Patties
- Gardenburger Original Veggie Burger
- Amy's California Veggie
- Amy's Sonoma Veggie
- Trader Joe's Veggie Burger
We prepared all of the burgers by searing them with a minimal layer of vegetable oil on a griddle according to the time recommended on the packaging. The burgers were served on toasted buns with just a touch of mayo (some participants opted to taste both with and without ketchup).
Tasters were asked to judge burgers on their texture, flavor, and overall preference.
When it comes to texture, our results indicate that most tasters were looking for burgers that were robust enough to stand up under the pressure of biting into a bun. Were they mushy or squishy? No good. We want veggie burgers that provide textural interest—a mix of crunchy, meaty, and soft textures were ranked higher than burgers that were uniform. We also tend to like burgers that have identifiable grains and vegetables in them. Generic Vegetable Protein Matrix (or GVPM) was not a good selling point for a patty.
As for flavor, our tastes ran similarly: we wanted real food flavor. Nutty, mushroomy, oniony, cheesy, or spiced—whatever it is, it has to be something we come across in our day to day life. Something familiar enough that it doesn't taste artificial.
During the process of planning this taste test, I got more than a few sarcastic, "I'm looking forward to that one"-type responses from officemates, and a couple of, "Well at least the buns will taste good"-s. But as the tasting sheets and comments revealed, most folks were actually pleasantly surprised by the patties across the board. Every brand had at least a few fans, but three emerged as our clear, nearly unanimous (with some strong vocal dissent!) favorites.
The Original Gardenburger Veggie Burger
Made with brown rice, mushrooms, oats, bulgur wheat, onions, and a whole lot of cheese (mozzarella and cheddar), these burgers were praised for their great texture ("Tender!" and, "It's actually cohesive") with large chunks of real grains and mushrooms.
When griddled, the edges get nice and crisp, and pockets of cheese ensure that the interior stays moist and satisfying as you eat it. "Sweet, oniony, earthy flavor," that "tastes like the sum of its parts." This is a patty that most of us would happily put between our buns, with or without extra cheese and bacon.
MorningStar Farms Garden Veggie Patties
Mushrooms, water chestnuts, onions, carrots, bell peppers, and olives give these guys their great vegetable flavor, while "vegetable protein" binds it together. Compared to our other winning brands, this guy had relatively few grains, though it does have a bit of brown rice and oats in the mix.
Some folks were mildly turned off by its "fake meat"-like flavors, provided by yeast extract and "natural flavors from non-meat sources," but for the most part they were mild enough that tasters overlooked them. Of all the burgers, these had the juiciest texture and the most evenly browned crust.
Trader Joe's Veggie Burger
The most divisive of our favorite brands, Trader Joe's veggie burgers are intensely flavored with coriander and cumin, giving them a distinctly "Indian" flavor profile. You have to really enjoy coriander to get into these guys. They also have a significantly shorter ingredients list than their competitors, with the most "real vegetable" texture, (which some tasters translated as "mushy" or "too soft").
They're made mostly of wheat, with carrots, onion, celery, eggs, bread crumbs, lemon juice, oil, parsley, garlic, and a few spices rounding them out. That's it. If the idea of a vegetable patty that you could very well make at home appeals to you, then this is the brand you should pick.
Our Tasting Methodology: All taste tests are conducted completely blind and without discussion. Tasters taste samples in random order. For example, taster A may taste sample 1 first, while taster B will taste sample 6 first. This is to prevent palate fatigue from unfairly giving any one sample an advantage. Tasters are asked to fill out tasting sheets ranking the samples for various criteria that vary from sample to sample. All data is tabulated and results are calculated with no editorial input in order to give us the most impartial representation of actual results possible.
About the author: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt is the Chief Creative Officer of Serious Eats where he likes to explore the science of home cooking in his weekly column The Food Lab. You can follow him at @thefoodlab on Twitter, or at The Food Lab on Facebook.