Vegan burgers are somewhat of a paradox. A food item made entirely from animal is always going to struggle to reconcile itself with a plant-only diet. For this reason most of the UK’s vegan burger offerings are forced to rely on a mixture of pulses, onions and suspect seasoning: in short, disappointing.
But the new vegan burger on offer at Honest Burger (aptly named the plant burger) is different. It doesn’t distance itself from meat. In fact it actively tries to impersonate its animal cousins in appearance, smell and even taste.
Made from a high-protein pea substance, with an injection of beetroot juice to lend that meaty red hue, as well as coconut oil and potato starch to give it the same bovine chewiness, it is reportedly so akin to meat that in America (where it was designed) it is stocked in fridges alongside real meat products. Impressive.
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Still somewhat dubious about the meaty claims, I took my first bite of the burger anticipating a mixture of flavourless protein mush. Instead my taste buds were pleasantly surprised to be greeted by the familiar texture of, well, beef.
If you’ve ever tried a Linda McCartney sausage then you’ll have an idea of what I’m talking about: 99 per cent of the time thinking you might be eating meat (at one point the beetroot juice really does have me questioning if the waiter has bought me the wrong order) only to be reassured by the processed casing.
The burger, served in a soft brioche bun with lettuce, red onion, some sneaky gherkins and a dollop of chipotle ‘mayonnaise’ (made from Aquafaba - the same versatile chickpea water you may recall they used to make meringue on the Great British Bake Off) it is definitely passable as a meat burger.
Now this might not sound like a great strategy when marketing a meal towards people who actively choose not to eat meat, and for those vegans whose stomach is turned by the idea of animal flesh, I would suggest opting out.
But given 33.5 per cent of the British population now claim to be vegetarian or attempting a reduced-meat diet (for environmental and health reasons) there need to be options that are tempting to flexitarian diners when weighed up against a slab of beef on a menu. And the Honest plant burger does just that.
Not only does it taste fairly decent, but for the health-conscious diners it has 20g of protein and less saturated fat, no soy or GMOs. And it comes in at an affordable £11.50 with rosemary garlic chips.
This carnivore-friendly veganism is a strategy that seems to be paying off for Honest Burger: the manager of the Camden branch tells me they haven’t got any vegan gouda cheese left to put in my burger at 6pm on a Wednesday evening, because it has already sold out.
Although they may risk alienating hardcore vegan customers who don’t want the sensation of a burger ‘bleeding’ when they bite into it, for the third of the population willing to be swayed to vegetables it is a smart marketing move, and one that hopefully will make veganism seem a little more accessible.