Ever wondered what all those ingredients listed on the package of your soy-based veggie burger really are? Rest assured, they’re not as scary as they sound. We explain the purpose of some mysterious ingredients commonly spotted on the labels of meat-free burgers.
Textured vegetable protein, soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate (listed in order from least to most processed).
A source of high-quality protein, the soybean is the foundation for many vegetarian burgers. Manufacturers often blend less-processed (and more nutritious) forms of soy with more highly processed soy that contributes an appealingly chewy, meat-like texture.
BINDERS & STABILIZERS
Vegetable gum, maltodextrin, methylcellulose.
These ingredients help hold everything together in a neat, firm patty. Generally, they are starches or fibers derived from natural plants (including bushes, trees, seaweed) and bacteria. You’ll find them in nearly any processed food. Since they are added in such small amounts, their nutritional impact is negligible.
Natural flavor, yeast extract, disodium guanylate, disodium inosinate, succinic acid, sodium phosphate.
Somewhat like the sugar and cheese, onion and garlic powders also listed on labels, these less familiar ingredients contribute to, or enhance, the flavor of your burger.
Natural flavor: This term refers to one or more ingredients derived from a plant or animal (i.e., not created in a lab) and added for flavor, not nutrition. Usually it reflects multiple ingredients whose proportions may vary between batches. For example, mint ice cream’s “natural flavor” may come from several mint types (peppermint, spearmint, etc.). “Natural flavor” may conceal proprietary formulas: One company that makes soy burgers confessed that using the term keeps its herb-and-spice blend “secret.” bottom line: Food makers don’t use this vague term to trick consumers (to puzzle rivals, maybe); in fact, the FDA requires that ingredients associated with food sensitivities (e.g., monosodium glutamate) be identified specifically.
Yeast extract: Compounds, including amino acids–which stimulate taste receptors–that are isolated from yeast and added to enhance flavors.
Disodium guanylate/disodium inosinate/succinic acid: Natural acids (found in living cells) that enhance food flavors, helping to reduce the amount of salt needed.
Like table salt (sodium chloride), it adds flavor–and sodium–to your burger.
Sunflower oil, soybean oil, corn oil, niacinamide, iron, ferrous sulfate, B1, B6, B2, B12.
Vegetable oils are added to contribute the moisture and rich “mouthfeel” that, in traditional hamburgers, (less healthful) beef fat provides. Also, some brands are fortified with nutrients one might miss by not eating meat.
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By Rachael Jackson, Eating Well magazine