The recent plant-based craze has challenged America’s longstanding love affair with meat, driving some to go meatless while others feel reluctant to part ways.
To the dismay of the meat industry, there is a growing number of people who are eating less meat. But the percentage of people who are adopting an all-veggie diet is still relatively small. Two out of every three Americans say they are eating less of at least one type of meat, yet only nine percent avoid meat altogether.
A growing trend of blended products (part meat and part vegetable) is looking to offer a compromise to consumers who aren’t willing to make a full plant-based switch. These hybrid blended products are popping up on shelves in grocery stores and restaurant menus as burgers, sausages and even chicken nuggets.
A study from the World Resources Institute found that Americans eat 10 billion burgers annually and if they replaced 30 percent of beef in those burgers with mushrooms, it would have the environmental impact of taking 2.3 million cars off the road. It would also conserve the same amount of water 2.6 million Americans use at home every year and reduce agricultural land demand by an area larger than Maryland.
Large meat companies such as Applegate, Perdue and Tyson have all released their own take on the blend. Even Misfit Foods, traditionally recognized as a juice company, switched gears in August to launch a blended line of sausages made up of 50 percent vegetables and 50 percent farm-raised chicken meat.
Phil Wong, a co-founder of Misfit Foods, tells Modern Farmer that the decision to start making blended products was motivated by environmental urgency, combined with consumer demand.
“We care the most about climate change,” he says. “With the juices, we were focused on food waste, but here with this platform of blended products, we actually have a much bigger opportunity to fight that exact issue that we care most about by working on meat reduction.”
He adds that, over the last year, a large majority of food companies across the US have enhanced their supply with a plant-based alternative, so the team saw the opportunity to create something a little different that allows for a gradual move away from meat.
Misfit Foods’s blended sausages line combines 50 percent chicken meat with 50 percent vegetables.
In 2015, the James Beard Foundation and the Mushroom Council launched an annual competition called the Blended Burger Project, which helped to fuel the rise of blended burgers in restaurants. The competition challenges restaurant chefs to create their own meat-blended recipe with at least 25 percent mushrooms.
In the competition’s early stages, there were only a handful of chefs who participated. Last year, that number grew to 500.
Fiore Moletz, a chef, restaurant owner and two-time winner of the Blended Burger Project, has introduced his own recipe to his restaurants with positive reviews from customers. He says the blended patty has represented about 10 percent of his sales.
Moletz’s blended burger has been recognized twice as a finalist in the Blended Burger Project. Photography by Clay Williams.
It’s also tastier, according to Moletz, who roasts a seasonal variety of mushrooms with thyme and garlic to combine with his restaurant’s local grass fed beef. While the blend isn’t as popular as Moletz’s 100 percent meat-based patties yet, he believes that blended products in general are only about to grow.
“The most important thing for me with the blend is that it’s sustainable and it’s healthy,” he says. “We’re always pushing for the healthier and the more sustainable approach. The more we educate everyone, the better off we’ll be.”