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We've avoided reviewing veggie burgers for a long time, mostly because for years, vegetarian meat replacements have relied heavily on salt and fat to give them flavor. What's (almost) worse, they just didn't taste very good.
Every now and then we get an email from one of our readers asking us to review a product, and we're happy to do so. After all, our motto is "We eat it, so you don't have to." Even less frequent are those letters that tell us about a product you enjoy and want to let us know about. It was one such letter that inspired us to start reviewing veggie burgers.
Unfortunately, Whole Foods was out of the Morningstar Farms Black Bean Burger she recommended (sorry, Diane!), but we'll get to it in a future review. While looking for the Black Bean Burgers I spotted a similar product from a company that specializes in vegetarian and vegan products that are also gluten-free: Sol Cuisine. So we bought three varieties for review this week.
Because Diane had recommended the Black Bean burger, we tried Sol Cuisine's take on it first. This Spicy Black Bean burger is made with soy and adds black beans, corn and spices to a 2.5 ounce patty that's only 90 calories, with 360 milligrams of sodium and 5 grams of fiber. The package lists several different recommended methods of cooking: grill, stovetop, oven or microwave. In the interest of time we chose to microwave ours for the recommended two minutes, flipping them over halfway through cooking.
The package warns you not to overcook these patties, and for good reason: with so little fat (only 1.5 grams of fat and no saturated fat) they're going to tend to be dry. Certainly if you allow these patties to cool, they do become a little dry, but while they're hot these burgers have good, meat-like texture. You can taste the black beans and corn (and see them in the "meat," for that matter) and they are indeed spicy, with a good hit of chili powder and onion. Definitely a good option for those vegetarians who like their burgers spicy!
After that encouraging start we turned to the plain burger, which I fully expected to be like my previous experiences of veggie burgers to be: dry, flavorless and boring. Not so! This doesn't have quite the meaty flavor of an actual beef patty, but it's every bit as good as the turkey burgers we reviewed from Applegate Farms a few months ago. These have a little less sodium than the Black Bean burgers, at 220 milligrams, but for 100 calories, 12 grams of protein and 3 grams of fiber it's a darn good-tasting burger with a hint of cumin and onion. Honestly, if you put this burger on a McDonald's-like bun your kids would not know the difference - the texture is that good. Out of curiosity, after tasting this one out of the microwave we cooked one in the oven to see if that made a difference - and surprisingly, it did. It actually seemed juicier out of the oven.
Finally we tested their Mushroom Rice Burger (90 calories, 290mg sodium, 3 grams of fiber, 8 grams of protein), which includes portobello mushrooms, tamari sauce and vegetables such as red and green bell peppers, carrots and black olives. This was much more like a veggie burger in the sense that it wasn't even trying to be meat-like: it has a creamy, mushroomy flavor that one taster described as "very vegetable-y." As a vegetable burger, it succeeds, but given a choice between these three burgers, as a person who eats meat I would recommend the plain burger first.
Given these encouraging results I think you can count on seeing more reviews of veggie burgers. And as always, if you have a favorite product you'd like us to review and share with the Dr. Gourmet family, write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us about it!