The joy of meat-free burgers

No longer a grim, joyless staple of the freezer cabinet, meat-free burgers are finally proving a delicious option for omnivores, as Alice-Azania Jarvis finds out

Processed, dehydrated, deepfrozen and joyless: the veggie burger has done little to ingratiate itself to foodies over the years. The favoured snack of the hemp-wearing and the pious, it has proven less a replacement for the beefy equivalent and more a symbol of all that carnivores deplore in their plant-eating companions. No sooner had it appeared on menus in the 1970s than it was being deployed a quasi insult: to be described as “veggie-burger-munching” was not, suffice to say, terribly flattering.

And so it was that, for vegetarians, barbecues meant choosing between a flaccid imitator or something altogether different (and, undoubtedly, more appetising): a wedge of grilled halloumi, a kebab of summer vegetables. Burger fans had to like it or lump it. Things got worse with the rise of the “posh burger” in the early Noughties. As luscious patties were served up everywhere from the Wolesley to the newly-launched Gourmet Burger Kitchen, the best vegetarians got was a bun stuffed with a few mushrooms. Even in shops, the options were limited: Linda McCartney – the patron saint of meat-alternatives – was your best bet, with her mildly flavoursome soy-based offering. And from 2002, Quorn burgers began putting in appearances: plausible, though somewhat eerie, with their mycoprotein fillings.

And then, small signs of change. The Portobello mushroom ceased to be the only option on restaurant menus. Sweet potato, carrot, black bean and chickpeas appeared in the mix. On the high street, things started looking up: by 2006, Waitrose was offering a “tikka grill,” while Sainsbury’s had introduced a sweet potato and goats’ cheese offering. Quietly; slowly, the veggie burger was getting a new look.

These days, vegetarians have almost as much choice as meat eaters. At Hache – London’s self-styled “burger connoisseurs” – they can choose between four, ranging from falafal to sweetcorn. At Grand Union, “garden burgers” come filled with goat’s cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, grilled vegetables and humus. And at Gourmet Burger Kitchen there’s a veritable glut of offerings: falafel, lentil, aubergine and more.

The veggie burger has stepped up from its place as second-fiddle. It has become an alternative, chosen not just out of necessity, but out of preference – by vegetarians and meat-eaters alike.

“The fact is, cutting down on meat is no longer seen as a compromise, as there are some great veggie choices out there,” explains Darren Lightburn, vegetable buyer at Marks and Spencer. “We know that 23 per cent of the UK are actively looking to reduce the amount of meat they eat.” Unsurprisingly, M&S has been quick to respond: in May it will launch a new range of haute veggie options, including a particularly toothsomesounding Thai Style Edamame Bean Burger, combining edamame soya beans with chickpeas, lemongrass and chilli.

On the other side of the Atlantic, the trend is even more advanced. In New York, restaurants offer veggie burgers made with everything from prunes, rice and beetroot to corn, cauliflower and garlic. The New York Times recently hailed the “self-actualisation” of the veggie patty and next month sees the publication of The Best Veggie Burgers on the Planet, by food writer Joni Marie Newman. Of course, new and improved as the veggie burger may be, it still rather begs the question of why. Why, when there are so many other vegetarian options, ape a dish which is essentially a celebration of meat, in all its juicy, carnivorous beauty?

It’s an argument only too familiar to Philip Taylor, chef and co-owner of Brighton’s haute-vegetarian restaurant Terre a Terre. Taylor was an early proponent of the revamped veggie burger, several years ago putting a patty made of ground halloumi on the menu. These days, though, he tends to steer clear: “The idea of creating meat substitutestyle items really doesn’t feature highly on our agenda. Ingredients such as quinoa, wild rice, buckwheat and barley all offer great taste and texture, it seems a pity to diminish these just to create a popular culture item.” Instead, the restaurant prefers to serve more authentic, if not dissimilar, items: “We’re partial to a socca, a corn cake or a latke, which are all dishes in their own right. They make reference to a variety of world cultures but stay true to vegetarianism.”

Still, for every non-meat-eater who’d rather avoid the burger, there’s another one pining for a bite. At the Waterloo Bar & Grill, head chef Cane Marc sees plenty of vegetarians looking to replicate the burger experience. As a result, his black bean & courgette burger does its best to replicate the experience of the real thing: “We combine the cooked black beans with coriander, paprika, garlic and chilli jam to make a patty. The chilli jam really gives it a smoky flavour, as if it’s been griddled. It absolutely walks out the door. Our customers love it.”

Crucially, though, they also see plenty of meat-eaters opting for burger, choosing it instead of the beef, chicken and wild boar options: “Not everyone wants to eat meat all the time. This is served with pesto and avocado. It’s healthy and it’s appetising in its own right.”

And, if anything sums up the new veggie burger, it’s that.

Club legend Paul Scholes is scared United could disappear into 'the wilderness'
A model of a Neanderthal man on display at the National Museum of Prehistory in Dordogne, France
Dawkins: 'There’s a very interesting reason why a prince could not turn into a frog – it's statistically too improbable'
newsThat's Richard Dawkins on babies with Down Syndrome
Arts and Entertainment
Eye of the beholder? 'Concrete lasagne' Preston bus station
architectureWhich monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Dinosaurs Unleashed at the Eden Project
Arts and Entertainment
Life and Style
This month marks the 20th anniversary of the first online sale
techDespite a host of other online auction sites and fierce competition from Amazon, eBay is still the most popular e-commerce site in the UK
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Recruitment Consultant (Graduate Trainee), Finchley Central

    £17K OTE £30K: Charter Selection: Highly successful and innovative specialist...

    SQL DBA/ C# Developer - T-SQL, C#.Net

    £45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Working with an exciting ...

    Sales and Office Administrator – Sports Media

    £23,000: Sauce Recruitment: A global leader in sports and entertainment is now...

    Day In a Page

    Middle East crisis: We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    We know all too much about the cruelty of Isis – but all too little about who they are

    Now Obama has seen the next US reporter to be threatened with beheading, will he blink, asks Robert Fisk
    Neanderthals lived alongside humans for centuries, latest study shows

    Final resting place of our Neanderthal neighbours revealed

    Bones dated to 40,000 years ago show species may have died out in Belgium species co-existed
    Scottish independence: The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    The new Scots who hold fate of the UK in their hands

    Scotland’s immigrants are as passionate about the future of their adopted nation as anyone else
    Britain's ugliest buildings: Which monstrosities should be nominated for the Dead Prize?

    Blight club: Britain's ugliest buildings

    Following the architect Cameron Sinclair's introduction of the Dead Prize, an award for ugly buildings, John Rentoul reflects on some of the biggest blots on the UK landscape
    eBay's enduring appeal: Online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce retailer

    eBay's enduring appeal

    The online auction site is still the UK's most popular e-commerce site
    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey: ‘lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird’

    'Lack of ethnic minority and black faces on TV is weird'

    Culture Minister Ed Vaizey calls for immediate action to address the problem
    Artist Olafur Eliasson's latest large-scale works are inspired by the paintings of JMW Turner

    Magic circles: Artist Olafur Eliasson

    Eliasson's works will go alongside a new exhibition of JMW Turner at Tate Britain. He tells Jay Merrick why the paintings of his hero are ripe for reinvention
    Josephine Dickinson: 'A cochlear implant helped me to discover a new world of sound'

    Josephine Dickinson: 'How I discovered a new world of sound'

    After going deaf as a child, musician and poet Josephine Dickinson made do with a hearing aid for five decades. Then she had a cochlear implant - and everything changed
    Greggs Google fail: Was the bakery's response to its logo mishap a stroke of marketing genius?

    Greggs gives lesson in crisis management

    After a mishap with their logo, high street staple Greggs went viral this week. But, as Simon Usborne discovers, their social media response was anything but half baked
    Matthew McConaughey has been singing the praises of bumbags (shame he doesn't know how to wear one)

    Matthew McConaughey sings the praises of bumbags

    Shame he doesn't know how to wear one. Harriet Walker explains the dos and don'ts of fanny packs
    7 best quadcopters and drones

    Flying fun: 7 best quadcopters and drones

    From state of the art devices with stabilised cameras to mini gadgets that can soar around the home, we take some flying objects for a spin
    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    Joey Barton: ‘I’ve been guilty of getting a bit irate’

    The midfielder returned to the Premier League after two years last weekend. The controversial character had much to discuss after his first game back
    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    Andy Murray: I quit while I’m ahead too often

    British No 1 knows his consistency as well as his fitness needs working on as he prepares for the US Open after a ‘very, very up and down’ year
    Ferguson: In the heartlands of America, a descent into madness

    A descent into madness in America's heartlands

    David Usborne arrived in Ferguson, Missouri to be greeted by a scene more redolent of Gaza and Afghanistan
    BBC’s filming of raid at Sir Cliff’s home ‘may be result of corruption’

    BBC faces corruption allegation over its Sir Cliff police raid coverage

    Reporter’s relationship with police under scrutiny as DG is summoned by MPs to explain extensive live broadcast of swoop on singer’s home