Yale Dining launched the newest addition to dining hall menus on Wednesday — the Beyond Burger. Created by plant-protein–meat-substitute company Beyond Meat, the Beyond Burger offers vegetarians and vegans alike a new burger option that, according to Beyond Meat, “looks, cooks and tastes like fresh ground beef.”
In addition to a campuswide Beyond Burger launch on Wednesday, Yale Dining chefs and a Beyond Meat representative held a pop-up event in Commons, complete with a photo opportunity and raffle, to engage students as they tasted the burgers.
Seth Goldman SOM ’95, co-founder of Honest Tea and executive chairman of Beyond Meat, said the “fundamental difference” between Beyond Burger and other meat-substitute products is that Beyond Burger replicates the “taste and sensory experience” of eating a real burger.
“Our aspiration for this burger is not just for it to be for vegetarians and vegans. We want to democratize plant-based food and make it available wherever protein products are sold,” Goldman said.
Some of the main ingredients in the Beyond Burger include yellow pea protein, coconut and canola oils — which, according to Goldman, provide a source of fat to make the burgers caramelize and retain moisture when grilled — and beet juice, giving the burger a red hue and making it “bleed” like real beef.
Students at Wednesday’s launch event voiced mixed reviews, but nearly all agreed that the choice was a viable meat substitute. Eight of nine students surveyed in Commons told the News that Beyond Burger tasted as good or better than most vegetarian meat products.
Casey Ramsey ’20 said the burger was a good replacement for vegetarians, and Valerie Wong ’20 said she could barely taste the difference between Beyond Burger and a regular beef burger.
“To burger enthusiasts, you can probably taste the difference, but it tastes the same for me,” Wong said.
Other students, however, disagreed. Jordan Smith ’20 said the taste was akin to “premium cat food,” and Chris Ross DRA ’17 felt that vegetarian dining options should focus less on replicating meat and more on making meat-free dishes.
Senior Director of Yale Dining Adam Millman said student feedback is especially important for new food items.
“Nothing compares to direct student feedback,” Millman said. “We take their input very seriously, particularly when it comes to the launch of a new product that no other university dining program in the country has.”
Goldman said that both Honest Tea — which he cofounded with his Yale SOM professor Barry Nalebuff in 1998 — and Beyond Meat can play meaningful roles in environmental and health impacts.
“We can really make a material difference, not just for consumers but also in how consumers impact the world with the choices they make,” he said.
As opposed to normal meat products, the meat-free, non-GMO Beyond Burger takes animal and environmental welfare into account. According to Yale Dining representatives, the lower carbon footprint and increased health benefits of plant proteins means the Beyond Burger meets high standards of taste, health and wellness.
Last year, Beyond Meat sold the Beyond Burger to Whole Foods Market nationwide — starting in Boulder, Colorado — and to Veggie Grill, a plant-based restaurant chain. According to Goldman, the company endeavors to reach a “wider audience” beyond just a “core audience” of vegans and vegetarians and sees its launch at Yale as an exciting first step. Goldman noted that Yale Dining has always been innovative in trying to create plant-based menus.
“Beyond Burger’s recent delicious burger will be added to the line of other products we already procure from this company,” said Gerry Remer, Yale Dining director of sustainability and supply management. “It’s hard not to agree that this burger meets our specification requirements — flavor, texture and taste — all by using pea-based protein.”
Stu Comen, first cook in Silliman College, said the Beyond Burger was a great vegan option because it tasted better than any meat alternative burgers the dining halls have ever served, but added that it did not taste like a real hamburger.
“Its texture was a bit softer than the traditional beef burger, and the flavor was somewhat lacking,” Comen said. “Although, if you put all the fixings on it, like a traditional burger — especially some cheese — you might not notice much of a difference,” he added.
At Wednesday’s event, Yale Dining served the Beyond Burger either on a brioche roll or vegan bun from local New Haven bakery Whole G. The toppings included lettuce, tomato and the Yale Burger Sauce.