Ask any expert how to make a classic American hamburger, and the secret is the meat: 80/20 beef is the gold standard for gastropubs and backyard BBQs, meaning that 80% of the mix is lean protein, and 20% is luscious, flavor-delivering fat.
When Beyond Meat launched its first Beyond Burger in 2016, it modeled its plant-based patty after 80/20 beef, integrating its mix with saturated fats from sources like coconut oil. But today, the company is announcing the third generation of the ever-improving Beyond Burger. After a year in development, it will offer consumers the option to eat mock meat with less fat.
The third generation of Beyond Meat splits the Beyond Burger into two distinct products. The first is an improved recipe that promises a more neutral, but also meatier, flavor, with a fat footprint that’s meant to mimic 80/20 beef (though with about 35% less saturated fat). It’s the Beyond Burger you know, made better. The second new product is a leaner Beyond Burger, with a lower-fat recipe that mimics 90/10 beef, with about 55% less saturated fat. (Beyond Meat isn’t reporting the exact grams of fat in their products before they pass regulatory standards.) Both now have additional B vitamins and minerals to provide macronutrients more similar to beef.
The new products—which I have yet to try—are being previewed in limited capacity now but won’t launch until next year.
“We have a goal to make sure the products taste great . . . . but you could just create products that are loaded with saturated fat . . . that aren’t that good for people,” says Beyond Meat CEO Ethan Brown. “Or you can hold yourself to a stricter line and say, ‘These have to be healthy for the human body and planet.'”
It’s a business play, too. Beyond cites that the number-one reason people eat meat alternatives isn’t for ethics or the environment but for their health. So differentiating their product as healthier than beef has been a big priority for the company. It’s why Beyond has partnered with Stanford to validate that its meat alternatives are actually healthier than beef.
How did Beyond make its burgers taste better? The company eliminated mung bean from its mix (which can have a notable flavor), making all the protein sourced from peas and rice (both of which are more neutral). Aside from this, the company doesn’t reveal much about the secret sauce behind the enhanced flavor, only hinting at its growing understanding of “flavor and aroma tonalities,” which it argues creates a more savory sensation than earlier iterations of the Beyond Burger. Finally, Brown says the company continues to get better at figuring out how to handle that critical component of fat and better integrate it into the burger’s protein in a way that it doesn’t render out as liquid during the cooking process, but explodes in your mouth with each bite. The ability to keep more fat inside a cooked patty was a reason why the 90/10 burger was feasible, not just from a marketing standpoint, but an edible one.
I point to the issue of fats with Beyond’s breakfast sausages, which exude a lot of oil during frying. At first, this oil helps develop a flavorful caramelization and creates a meaty texture that almost squeaks in your teeth. But cooked just a little too long, and the patty dries out. It’s chewier and mealier, too. Much like cooking a steak well done vs. medium rare, it’s almost a whole other product.
Brown nods in agreement, explaining that this is just the challenge at play—to maintain juiciness in the product without just adding more and more fat. “How do we get fat, and saturated fat, to work harder [for the experience]?”
The new Beyond Burgers will launch nationwide in 2021, but Beyond Meat will keep asking this question for years to come.