For the handful of companies working to develop plant-based alternatives to meat, finding a hearty stand-in for the humble hamburger is the holy grail.
One of those companies, Beyond Meat, says it has come up with that burger. The company began selling the Beyond Burger on Monday at a Whole Foods in Boulder, Colo. — alongside the case where beef, poultry, lamb and pork are sold.
"This is what I had in mind when I started the company," said Ethan Brown, who founded Beyond Meat in 2009.
Tom Rich, vice president of purchasing and distribution in the Denver region of Whole Foods Market, says there is a growing interest in alternative protein sources.
The Beyond Burger, said Rich, a vegetarian, "tasted and felt and chewed like any other burger, and on some level, I just want to be able to eat the same way everyone else eats."
Beyond Meat wants its burgers to go home via the grocery basket. At Whole Foods, where Brown will be, on and off, for the next couple of weeks, a package of two 4-ounce Beyond Burgers sells for $5.99.
Like many of the entrepreneurs developing new ways of extracting protein from plants, Brown said he was concerned about both nutrition and the environmental effect of large-scale animal farming and how the food industry will adequately feed the world's growing population.
The company had to solve a variety of issues. It had to ensure that the middle of its burger would stay moist, pink and juicy as the exterior cooked to that distinct dark brown of a traditional hamburger. It had to "bleed" — thousands of beets were pulverized in the development process — and it had to emit the same smell as cooked beef.
"It's hard to reduce flavor and aroma to an equation, particularly when you need a solution that is simple and flexible," said Joseph Puglisi, a professor of structural biology at Stanford University whose research focuses on the shapes and forms of biological molecules.