The Anatomy of a Veggie Burger
Veggie Burgers, often overlooked and under appreciated, have been around for many years. As vegetarian and plant based diets are becoming more mainstream, we are starting to see more interest in a meal that once sat in the shadow of it's beef counterpart. Store-bought varieties never tasted very good but were one of few options for those non-meat eating folks. Today, with the help of some scientists and a few "petri dishes", both flavor and texture have come a long way. Unfortunately, this increase in taste comes at the expense of being highly processed and artificially flavored to the extent that they can barely even be considered food.
Although time-consuming, making Veggie Burgers from scratch is a really great option. The possibilities are endless and they will certainly be much healthier than many of the store-bought varieties. Before getting started, its important to understand the task at hand and realize that other than shape and size, Veggie Burgers have absolutely nothing in common with Beef Burgers. When making Beef Burgers, all you have to do grab some ground beef and mold into patties. If your feeling adventurous, you can season with salt, pepper, and your favorite spices. By it's very nature, ground beef already provides great taste, texture, and binding properties.
In contrast, when making a plant-based Veggie Burger, you have to replicate these properties by using many ingredients and even pre-cooking the ingredients before forming the patties. In addition, finding the right balance between wet and dry ingredients is critical so that it is neither too dry or too mushy. Depending on if you take any short cuts (like using canned beans), it could take anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours to make a batch of homemade Veggie Burgers.
It's important to note, a good Veggie Burger isn't defined by how similar it is to a Beef Burger. Put simply, a Veggie Burger is a Veggie Burger, its not a Beef Burger wanna-be. Rather than trying to make it look, taste, and even bleed (yes, some actually do) like a Beef Burger, we believe a Veggie Burger stands strong when kept simple and made with basic ingredients you typically have in your kitchen.
Anatomy of a Veggie Burger (Ingredient Type by Mass)
As you can see from the pie chart above, a Veggie Burger can be roughly broken up into 5 types of ingredients (Base, Texture, Structure, Binders, Fat, and Flavor).
Base Ingredients (50%)
These ingredients make up about half the mass of the finished product. Because of this, these ingredients are usually used to describe or name the type of Veggie Burger. IE: "Black Bean Burger" or "Roasted Beet Burger". Many base ingredients are great by themselves but others like quinoa are best as a secondary base ingredient. Whether using beans or a sturdy root vegetable, it is really as simple as cooking and mashing with a fork or running through a food processor.
Beans / Legumes (Black Beans, White Beans, Kidney Beans, Chickpeas, Lentils)
Soy (Tofu, Textured Vegetable Protein, Tempeh, Seitan)
Vegetables (Mushroom, Beet, Cauliflower, Potato, Eggplant)
Texture Ingredients (20%)
Texture, like smell, is a very important component of whether something tastes good or not. A Veggie Burger without texture will be too mushy and lack the characteristics required to really chomp down and chew through the burger. These texture ingredients should make up about 20% of the finished product and will provide contrast to the base ingredient(s).
Seeds / chopped nuts
Vegetables (Corn, Carrot, Sweet Potato Chunks)
Textured Vegetable Protein
Structure Ingredients (15%)
In order to achieve a Veggie Burger patty that won't fall apart when cooking or when eating in a bun, it needs to have structure. Ingredients like bread crumbs provide stability when added to otherwise mushy base ingredients like beans. A somewhat unappetizing analogy would be the addition of stones or gravel to a water and sand mixture to form concrete. These structure ingredients work hand-in-hand with the next ingredient category, binder ingredients.
Bread Crumbs / Rice Crumbs
Binder Ingredients (5%)
Binding ingredients, while only making up about 5% of the Veggie Burger, are very important. Without them, the burger will have no chance of staying together. Finding the right balance is also very important. To much binder will produce a hard, dense, "hockey puck"; Too little binder will not provide enough of a bind and the burger will fall apart.
Choosing the right binding ingredient is usually a question of whether it needs to be Vegan or not. Eggs, while not Vegan, certainly provide the best binding properties. However, if you are Vegan, you do have some other options. A popular approach among Vegans to replicating the binding properties of an egg is to grind Chia or Flax Seeds and combine with water. After a few minutes, a sticky slurry forms that functions as a great binder.
Egg (Provided by the whites)
Chia Seed Slurry / Flax Seed Slurry
Fat Ingredients (5%)
Beef burgers taste great because of all that fat (fat tastes good). This fat also makes for a juicy burger. In terms of Veggie Burgers, a little fat in the form of canola or vegetable oil can go a long way. Without a bit of added fat, the burger will be too dry and crumbly. By simply sautéing vegetables in oil or adding a little oil directly to the mix will make for a very moist burger. (This is similar to making brownies.)
Canola / Vegetable Oil
Flavor Ingredients (5%)
Last but certainly not least are the flavor ingredients. Eating healthy is great but at the end of the day, what you are eating needs to taste good. Sautéing vegetables with a little garlic provides the perfect flavor boost to any Veggie Burger. The visible vegetable pieces are also an important characteristic of defining a good Veggie Burger. Sodium, in the form of Salt or even Soy or Worcestershire Sauce, plays an important role in bringing out the natural flavors and enhancing taste.
Soy Sauce / Worcestershire Sauce
Herbs and Spices (Pepper, Oregano, Parsley, Cumin)
Forming and Cooking
Once the mix has been made, its time to form and cook. While the average size of most store-bought varieties is about 3 ounces, we believe a 4 oz (Quarter Pound) burger is the minimum acceptable size. With a diameter of about 4 inches, the burger will sit well on a standard hamburger bun and will have a thickness of about half an inch (not too thin and not too thick). You can easily form by hand or purchase a patty press at a pretty reasonable price. Veggie Burgers cook best in a skillet with a little cooking oil, however, depending on how well the binding properties are defined, you can certainly cook them on a gas or charcoal grill.
Whether you are Vegan, Vegetarian, or just want to reduce your meat intake, Veggie Burgers are a perfect option. Store-bought varieties are quick and convenient but usually don't taste very good or are scientific phenomenons that are processed to the point that they shouldn't even be considered food. Making your own Veggie Burgers from scratch is certainly the way to go for best quality and results. Unfortunately, this approach is very time consuming (up to 2 hours) and can't be relied on for that quick Tuesday night meal. The Farmhouse Burger Company hopes to change this dilemma with their home style Artisan Vegetable Burgers that are now available in stores throughout New England. The Farmhouse Burger Company keeps it simple using only common ingredients found in most home kitchens.