What’s In Your Burger?

Dave Carter

Plant-based protein.

It’s all the rage in the world of food these days.

 News media business pages are filled with stories of plant-based protein startups gaining shelf space in grocery stores. Old-line meat companies are rolling out new lines of “plant-based” protein. A legion of exhibitors at the Natural Products Expo West show in Anaheim, CA in March touted their “plant-based protein” offerings with claims of better nutrition and environmental benefits.     

So, just what is “plant-based protein?”

The basic definition is a high-protein food made exclusively from plants. That is a very accurate definition of bison meat. In fact, if we could list an “ingredient panel” on a package of bison meat, it would probably read, “grass, grain, minerals.”

Let’s compare that to one of the new upstarts: Impossible Burger. I don’t have enough space here to go through all 21 ingredients on their list, 14 of which are patented as intellectual property. So, I focused in on a few:

  • Soy leghemoglobin – This ingredient has been genetically engineered by inserting the DNA of GMO soy leghemoglobin into yeast and fermenting it into something that resembles the blood in real meat.  
  • Zinc gluconate – This is “the zinc salt of gluconic acid, and is an ionic compound consisting of two anions of gluconate for each zinc cation.” Yeah, I don’t understand that one either, but it sure doesn’t sound like plants are involved. In all fairness, it’s commonly used in dietary supplements, usually with the warning, “consult physician before use.”

Here’s my favorite:

  • Methylcellulose– The first description that popped up when I Googled this one describes it as “a bulk-forming laxative that increases the amount of water in your stools to help make them softer and easier to pass.”

Okay, so these plant-based proteins aren’t quite as simple as touted, but they certainly have nutritional benefit…right? 

Not exactly.  A 100-gram serving of Impossible Burger provides 212 calories, 13 grams of fat and 17 grams of protein, while a similar serving of Beyond Meat delivers 239 calories, 15 grams of fat and 24 grams of protein. Meanwhile, the nutritional panel on a leading ground bison brand lists 190 calories, 11 grams of fat and 23 grams of protein. When it comes to sodium, Impossible Burger has 327 milligrams, Beyond Meat has 513 milligrams, and bison has 60 milligrams. That makes sense. Salt always makes bland food more palatable, even as it clogs arteries.

Then, there’s the claim of environmental benefits. Seriously?  Nearly 40 percent of North America’s ecosystem—the grasslands—evolved under continuous interaction with bison and other grazing animals. Bison sculpted the landscape, creating an ecosystem with healthy soils that sequester carbon and are lush with a diversity of plant and animal life.

The University of California at Davis last year published a study entitled Grasslands More Resilient Carbon Sink than Forests. The study concluded, “(G)rasslands store more carbon than forests because they are impacted less by droughts and wildfires. This doesn’t even include the potential benefits of good land management to help boost soil health and increase carbon stocks in rangelands.”

I doubt that soy leghemoglobin, zinc gluconate, or methylcellulose can effectively manage those grasslands as effectively as bison and other grazers. 

Finally, there’s the claim of taste. Really? Not even close. Just click on the recipes found elsewhere on this website. Deliciously healthy bison remains unmatched in flavor, nutrition and environmental benefits.

That’s why bison can rightfully claim to be Nature’s Original Plant-Based Protein.