What’s Inside Your Veggie Burger?

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.

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.

Visit EatingWell.com for free quick and easy healthy recipe collections!

By Rachael Jackson, Eating Well magazine


William C
William Cabout a year ago


W. C
W. Cabout a year ago

Thank you for the article.

Laureen N.
Laureen N8 years ago

I really hope that the author of this article reads the comments and takes them to heart. It seems she needs some education. Eating soy (especially highly textured non-GMO soy) is not Eating Well.

Laureen N.
Laureen N8 years ago

Another article advocating soy, even though it's been shown, many times over, that soy can actually cause health problems in some people; additionally, some people are allergic to soy. I, personally, totally avoid any veggie burgers that contain soy. (In fact, if a restaurant has a veggie burger on the menu, I make sure I ask if it contains soy. Unfortunately, a lot do.) Also, I find that the cheaper quality veggie burgers are those that contain soy -- most especially, highly processed soy. There are much better options. The best veggie burgers I've had are made from lentils, quinoa, and may contain some beans and vegetables. Also, most highly processed soy does not come from non-GMO soy, and I would think that sites like Care2 would not want to promote products from corrupt agri-businesses like Monsanto, which produces a pretty good percentage of nonh-GMO soy. The statement, "A source of high-quality protein ... Manufacturers often blend less-processed (and more nutritious) forms of soy with more highly processed soy that contributes an appealingly chewy, meat-like texture," I find problematic. In fact, I've read a number of articles from alternative practitioners who caution against eating highly processed soy. I wish this article had promoted lentils, quinoa, beans and vegetables instead of advocating veggie burgers made from soy.

Nansee C.
Nansee C8 years ago

highly informative, thanks.

Amber M.
Past Member 9 years ago

Thanks, this article is very informative.

Nancy M.
Nancy M10 years ago

Aneglia- I am incredibly educated. If yeast contains "MSG" then it is there as a matural thing. MSG is the amino acid glutamate. The M means mono the S means sodium and the G means glutamate. BTW, most people have no problem with MSG though some do. Yeasy is a natural source of vitamen and amino acids. Perhpas you have trouble with MSG and have to aovid it. If you, you probably do need to avoid yeast as well. So sorry that those natural vitamens don't work for you. As for me, I chose to make credible food decisions based on real knoweldge of real molecules.

Angelia M.
Angelia M.10 years ago

To Nancy M: The yeast extract found in the food you buy contains MSG. This is how manufacturers are able to pass it off without having to list it. Do a google search of MSG in yeast extract and you will see. Please do your homework and become educated. It's time we stop allowing them to treat us like stupid sheep.

Maureen Goldman
Maureen G10 years ago

I agree w/Leigh-Anne Yacovelli re "natural flavor" so if it doesn't specify 'vegetarian' or 'vegan' I avoid anything w/natural flavor. You'd be surprised what they put chicken fat in BTW - I found it on the label when I was half-way through a bag of Baked Lays potato chips!!!!Yecch!
As to avoiding commercial - I'm glad to find out that the ''mystery" ingredients are harmless - I'm a chronic pain sufferer so making my own is just too much sitting and/or standing!!! Trader Joe's Wildwood tofu burger is great & for a "I can't believe this is a veggie burger!" treat Morningstar's Griller's Prime makes me feel like I'm at a July 4th cookout! These are all kind of pricey but are a quick way to keep up my protein intake.

Kymberlee M.
Kym F10 years ago

I have been a veg for a long time, but not starting out with any type of sense with cooking as it was ALL packaged as a kid, I did rely a lot on processed "veg" foods for a lot of years. Then I found out I have Celiac Disease and by the nature of the beast am eating vastly different. I cannot even tell you how much better I feel! It is amazing. I am still at a loss sometimes on what to eat and what to make, especially since I have the "childhood" foods in my mind! Now I am experimenting with greens.

As far as Veggie burgers? Well the only one I found that is gluten free and tasty is by Amy's, but on my budget that isn't going to happen either!

Happy day to all!