Anatomy of veggie burgers. 57 products compared

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burger-vegetali

Vegetable burgers are an increasingly popular and appreciated food, not only by vegetarians and vegans. The basic ingredients always consist of a mix of legumes, cereals and vegetables. The characteristics of the products, however, vary significantly, due both to the addition of salt and additives and to the fat, saturated fat and protein contents. As well as the nature, conventional or organic, of the foods.

The market survey carried out by GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade) between 5 and 19 January 2024 offers the possibility of comparing 57 products sold in Italy with industrial brand, private label and discount.

Vegetable burgers, 57 compared

The sample It is made up of 9 private label (MDD) products, 12 discount products, 15 industry brands and 21 organic products. With cross-sectional analysis, among the 57 products, of 11 vegetable burgers labeled as ‘gluten-free’.

The nutritional composition sometimes it betrays the declared objective of offering vegetable burgers as a ‘healthy’ alternative to meat-based burgers:

  • saturated fats and salt in some cases reach considerable levels;
  • there is no shortage of food additives. Four of these – methylcellulose (E461), guar gum (E412), locust bean gum (E410) and xanthan gum (E416) – can create gastrointestinal disorders. Three others – sodium acetate (E262), potassium sorbate (E202) and potassium hydroxide (E525) – are not authorized in organic products.

Fibers and proteins

Nutrition claims most present on the label of veggie burgers refer to the presence or richness in fiber and proteins. In this regard, it is useful to remember the differences between the different indications:

  • fiber source‘and’contains fiber‘ means that the food contains at least 3 g of fiber per 100 g, or 1,5 g of fiber per 100 kcal;
  • high fiber content, ‘rich in fiber it expresses a double content, i.e. equal to at least 6 g of fibers per 100 g, or 3 g of fibers per 100 kcal; (1)
  • source of protein‘ is ‘high in protein‘(High protein)’ indicate that at least 12% and 20% of the energy value of the food, respectively, is provided by proteins. (2)

1) Vegetable burgers, the discount offer

In the discount channel, which continues to grow under the pressure of high prices, (3) we have selected 12 vegetable burgers offered by Eurospin, Lidl and Todis, all described in the following table.

Nutritional data most interesting, following:

  • saturated fats. 2,62% the average, in a very wide range from 0,8 to 9,2%;
  • fibers. 25,4g% the average of 7 out of 12 products. The five Lidl products fail to indicate the quantity (not mandatory but recommendable, particularly on this type of product;
  • salt. 1,31% the average, between a minimum of 0,90% and a (worrying) maximum of 1,70%.

The average price of the products examined in discount stores is €11,80/kg. With fluctuations from €9,94/kg of the Veggie Burger with artichoke and dried tomato flavor from Todis to €14,05/kg for the Next Level Burger from Lidl.

The two products mentioned offer the opportunity to introduce some elements of comparison:

a) the cheapest, proposed by Todis, is distinguished by three elements:

– the greatest amount of salt added in discount burgers (1,70%),

– few healthy fibers (1,8%), (4)

– use of the additive methylcellulose (E 461), which can have laxative effects. Please note that all 12 products from the discounter contain additives,

b) the most expensive, Next Level by Lidl, contains

– the highest amount of saturated fat (9,2%, abominable) e

– three additives and two synthetic flavours. Among the latter, the following deserve attention smoky aromas, indicated as potentially genotoxic in the latest EFSA opinion. (5)

veggie burgers at the discount store

2) Private label veggie burgers

The ‘own-labels’ (or ‘private labels’) of large-scale retail trade in turn are recording continuous growth, also (but not only) due to food inflation. The 9 products from Carrefour, Coop and Esselunga compared here (see table) are all non-organic. Other Coop and Conad products are included in the organic burgers group, which we will see later.

In this group, the average price is €15,15/kg and varies from €11,27/kg for Coop’s Burger gli Spesotti (the ‘first price’ line, introduced in November 2023 as a safeguard against inflation) to 19,50 €/kg of the pea protein burger from the same brand.

The average protein content it is 10,7g per 100g of product, with a significant variability from 4,5g of Carrefour’s aubergine medallions to 16g of Coop (linseed and pumpkin seeds) and Esselunga (soya-based).

2.1) Saturated fats and salt

Among the veggie burgers he retail brand three products stand out for unbalanced nutritional profiles compared to the category average:

– Coop’s pea protein burger, in addition to being the most expensive, stands out for its high saturated fat content (7,7%, compared to an average of 1,94%), probably due to its presence in the recipe of coconut oil, as well as for the addition of synthetic flavors and methylcellulose (like three other MDD burgers),

– the Medallions with Bulgur from Carrefour Veg abound with salt (1,70%, against an average of 1,24%),

– Esselunga’s soya and spinach burgers also have an excessive salt content (1,70%).

Private label veggie burgers

3) Brand industry

The Italian leader in the sector is Kioene, with 5 vegetable burgers under its own brand (unfortunately not organic) as well as various others under retail brands (Esselunga, Conad) and discounters (Lidl, Todis), also in organic versions,

The closest comparison on prices it is between Kioene and Nestlé (Garden Gourmet brand), around €15-16/kg, compared to an average of €17,83/kg and a range between €14,25 and €22,69/kg.

Only 4 of the 15 industrial brand products, please note, they are free of food additives.

3.1) Only 4 products without additives

From a nutritional point of view, it is observed that

– saturated fats they reach the level of 6,5g per 100g of product in the two Unconventional Burgers. A content almost triple the average of the 15 products (2,2%), and closer to that of many meat hamburgers, as we have seen. (6) This operator is also the only one of the 15 that, together with Nestlé, adds synthetic flavours,

– salt stands at 1,70% in the Kioene Burger, compared to an average of 1,18%, with wide fluctuations between 0,40g (Nestlé soy protein) and 1,50g per 100g of product (Kioene broccoli and kale),

– proteins, often mentioned on the label, are on average 10,75g per 100g of product. The minimum quantity (4,5g) is found in the Nestlé Garden Gourmet carrot broccoli miniburgers. The maximum level (21g) in the tasty soy burger of the same brand,

– the fibersfinally, they fluctuate between 1,6g per 100g in the Kioene aubergine burger and 9g in the Zerbinati quinoa, spinach and cabbage Burger’Z.

3.1) The burger for a ‘deflated stomach’

The tofu burger is interesting alla parmigiana by Compagnia Italiana, which with the claim ‘deflated belly‘is proposed as a vegetarian food with low fodmap content (Fermentable Oligo-Di-Monosaccharides and Polyols), i.e. short-chain carbohydrates poorly absorbed by the intestinal walls and fermented by the bacteria of the intestine itself, particularly unsuitable for those suffering from the syndrome of irritable bowel.

Moderate in the addition of salt (0,78%), this product contains the highest dose of fat (17%) among industrial brand ones, with 2,9% saturated fat (the average is 2,2%).

industrial brand veggie burgers

4) The power of organic veggie burgers

The widest offer and qualitatively fine vegetable burgers belong to the organic, perhaps more established to respond to the demand for balanced and sustainable veg products. As many as 21 organic vegetable burgers are easily available in supermarkets (Coop and Conad) and in the major specialized chains (Naturasì and Più Bio, in our sampling).

Invisible values of these burgers relate to the true sustainability of agricultural production, in compliance with the only internationally codified method, as well as the absence of pesticide residues and other agrotoxics in vegetables, legumes and any other ingredient. Other than ‘conventional’ grains and Canadian lentils dried with glyphosate. (7)

The visible ones, reported on the label, once again highlight the superiority of organic in terms of healthiness: rare (2 out of 21) food additives, among the few authorized in the organic sector, and ‘clean labels’.

4.1) Expensive but good

The average price of organic vegetable burgers is 22,63 euros/kg. Higher than the prices of all non-organic products, from €17,83/kg of industrial brands to €15,15/kg of ‘private labels’, up to €11,80/kg of discounters. Quality is paid for, even if at excessive prices compared to the differences in the cost of raw materials.

The price range, even in the bio, is quite broad. You save with distributors’ own-labels, thanks to Conad Verso Natura and Coop Viviverde which remain below €18/kg, in line with the prices of non-organic industrial brands.

4.2) The organic recipe

Nutritional values organic burgers confirm greater attention to health in this production sector:

– saturated fats amount on average to 1,44g per 100g of product, less than in the non-organic categories already examined,

– salt, as above, is present on average at an amount of 1,11%, with a range from 0,90g to 1,50g (always per 100g of product),

– the fibres, 4,29% on average, vary in the 21 samples from a minimum of 2,4% to a maximum of 9,7%,

– proteins, on average 9,7%, fluctuate in the sample from 3,4 to 16%, as shown in the table.

organic veggie burgers

organic veggie burgers

5) Gluten and other allergens

Allergic people must pay particular attention when choosing veggie burgers. In some cases, ‘soya-free recipe’ or ‘gluten-free’ is highlighted on the label, with an asterisk which however specifies the possible presence of ‘trace amounts’ of allergens (various cereals containing gluten) on the back of the package.

This is the case with some Kioene products with ‘soya-free recipe’ but subject to possible cross-contamination (Kioene vegetable miniburgers with broccoli and kale, l’Originale vegetable miniburgers with pumpkin and carrots and vegetable miniburgers with broccoli and kale).

Out of 57 products compared, 11 specify the absence of gluten. As the table shows, the products are always organic, with the exception of two cases (La Fattoria Veg, in the two versions basil-pine nuts and carrots-thyme). The latter, however, also highlights ‘soya-free’ on the label, only to then specify its possible ‘trace’ contamination on the back. At risk of handcuffs, in case of anaphylactic shock of allergic consumers.

gluten-free veggie burgers

Marta Strinati

Footnotes

(1) Dario Dongo. ABC nutrition facts. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(2) ‘x% protein’ on the front of the label, do you need an asterisk? The lawyer Dario Dongo answers. DO (Food and Agriculture Requirements).

(3) Marta Strinati. Italians on standby. Coop Italia’s consumption forecasts for 2024. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(4) Marta Strinati. Alzheimer, the consumption of dietary fiber reduces the risk and protects the brain of the elderly. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(5) Marta Strinati. Genotoxic smoke flavourings, the EFSA opinion. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(6) Marta Strinati. Burgers and beef tartare, little meat and some children of unknown mothers. 39 in comparison. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

(7) Marta Strinati, Dario Dongo. Lentils Made in Canada invade Italy. GIFT (Great Italian Food Trade).

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Professional journalist since January 1995, he has worked for newspapers (Il Messaggero, Paese Sera, La Stampa) and periodicals (NumeroUno, Il Salvagente). She is the author of journalistic surveys on food, she has published the book "Reading labels to know what we eat".