Part of the joy of cooking a burger is the anticipation of what you’re about to eat. No matter how you’re making one, that smell is pretty delicious. (I bet you can even imagine it now. I know I can.) Plant-based beef substitutions don’t quite hit that note, mainly because they’re made out of, well, not beef. So a group of scientists did some fancy experimentation to determine which grocery store plant-based meat brands stacked up to the smell of the real thing, reports Technology Networks.
The researchers picked eight brands available at the supermarket. LiLi Zyzak, Ph.D., at Eastern Kentucky University, had this to say: “The problem with plant-based burgers is that the plant protein itself contributes a strong odor. For example, pea protein smells like green, cut grass, so companies have to find a way to mask that aroma. Some use heavy seasonings.”
On its own, uncooked hamburger doesn’t have much of a scent. The process of cooking it is what makes that flavor and smell happen, as it unlocks compounds that give the burgers odor and flavor. Plant-based meat innovators have had to replicate the smell of cooked meat by using vegetable oils to replace the scent of cooking animal fat. With this in mind, using gas chromatography plus their own noses, the researchers evaluated the aroma compounds based off five characteristics: meaty, roasted, buttery, sweet, and fatty.
The conclusion? Beyond Burger was the closest-smelling to real meat out of all eight picks. But it was still very different from actual meat.
Another brand in the study, which looked much like raw beef, ended up with a yeasty odor, while some of the others had seasonings that were strong enough to smell, distracting from any potential beef aroma. What Zyzak is eventually hoping to do is use the group’s findings to make a strong facsimile of odor compounds that smell like actual burgers.
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Personally, I’m surprised that Beyond Burger led the pack. The reason I avoid cooking that brand at home is because I can’t get past that cat-foody pea protein smell when it’s cooked. But I don’t have a gas chromatography device at home, so what do I know?