Mushburger. Beefroom. Burgeroom. Hambroom?
The package I bought at my local grocery store did not have any of these highly creative names on it. Instead, it simply said, “Blended Ground Beef + Mushroom.”
Then, below another banner that said SmartBlends (which, in an unfortunate and preventable marketing snafu, is also the name of this dog food), the package boasted the health benefits of this combination ground beef and mushroom protein, as compared to 73/27 ground beef: 43% less calories, 58% less saturated fat, and 29% less cholesterol. A circle at the top of the package said it cooks and tastes just like pure beef. I didn’t see any discernible mushrooms in it. I was intrigued.
The Takeout reported on the trend of blending mushrooms and beef in 2018, around the same time that Sonic released a mushroom beef blend burger and Men’s Health said the burger was “part beef, part something else.” Back then, achieving the blended product at home meant chopping up a lot of mushrooms yourself and adding them to a food processor with ground beef. But in 2022, here it was in my grocery store, neatly prepackaged and ready for me to make an easy meal with. Could this be my new go-to beef?
To find out, I bought an inordinate number of packages of this stuff and got to cooking, offsetting the health benefits of using a mushroom beef blend by eating beef (albeit mushburger) several nights in a row. But I was on a mission. I wanted to know:
- Does this stuff actually taste just like regular beef?
- Does it cook like beef?
- Can I tell it’s been swapped into common dishes that use ground beef?
Here’s what I found out.
I started with what I felt was the most obvious choice for ground beef: hamburgers. To control the experiment, I didn’t alter anything else about how I usually make them. Which is to say I didn’t make the burgers at all. My husband did, because he makes better burgers than me.
His burgers contain a proprietary blend (read: he doesn’t measure) of egg, breadcrumbs, Worcestershire sauce, salt, and pepper. He cooked the patties on the grill, and we served them on sesame seed buns.
With regard to toppings, my first instinct was to lean into the mushroom thing, maybe make a barbecue/blue cheese/mushroom burger topped with onions. But the experiment relied on getting a clear taste of the burger in its natural element, so I leaned away from mushroom flavors and used Big Mac-esque toppings instead: American cheese, shredded lettuce, and Trader Joe’s Magnifisauce.
I did not notice a difference in the taste, smell, or overall experience of eating these burgers. I did not see or otherwise detect mushroom at all. If I hadn’t known there was mushroom blended with the beef, I never would have suspected that anything was up.
Next, I made tacos with the mushroom beef. I noticed as I was sautéing the meat, pre-seasoning, that more moisture than usual was formed in the pan—the water content leaving the mushrooms. Unlike fat that comes out of meat while cooking, though, this moisture eventually evaporated, leaving behind the crumbled meat (and virtually invisible mushrooms).
I used an Old El Paso taco kit to season the beef blend, and again, I noticed no taste difference here. The only discernible difference is that the texture was a little softer than it typically is when I use straight hamburger meat.
Another heavy-on-seasoning recipe is chili, and no, I didn’t taste any mushrooms here either. But this recipe might be where I saw the biggest difference between a normal package of meat and the mushbeef.
My go-to chili recipe is to sauté beef in a dutch oven, add vegetables (carrots, celery, onion, corn), then tomato paste, then taco seasoning, and finally, beans and corn. I stir it all up and cook it in a 300-degree oven for about two hours or so. This results in a delicious chili, and it did this time, too. The meat, though, sort of disappeared into it. Like, you know how Taco Bell’s ground beef is super soft and the crumbles are so small I don’t think you’d even call them crumbles? That’s how this was. Intellectually, I knew there was beef in the chili, but functionally, I wasn’t experiencing it much as I ate.
To clarify: I liked that the meat disappeared into my chili. I personally like that Taco Bell’s beef is so soft I start to question whether it’s meat (it is, supposedly… or at least 88% of it is, anyway). So I enjoyed the way the mushroom + ground beef mixture blended in with my chili, and I’ll use it in this context again.
I spent a lot of my week researching the chopped cheese, after I ate a Friendly’s Doritos® Cool Ranch® ChoppedCheese Burger. While I will not claim that I created anything close to the chopped cheese in my own home, after reading a lot about this sandwich, I did feel compelled to take to my kitchen and make an approximation of it that didn’t have Cool Ranch Doritos on it.
Similar to when I was making tacos, I noticed that a lot of moisture crept out of the mushbeef after I had chopped it up, which happened a little while after I put two well-formed patties in the pan. That meant that the beef didn’t get quite as browned or crispy at the edges as I had hoped, or as would happen with a smash burger.
Though I used a lot of salt and pepper, and to good results, it was the recipe in which the alternative protein was most obvious, yet despite the differences caused by the water content, I still thought it was delicious and still didn’t taste any mushroom.
I feel comfortable swapping in this blended meat for regular ground beef in most of my cooking, with the caveat that the next time I make chili, or if I were to try it in a bolognese sauce, I would probably use more of it than I would straight beef, because I did feel it got a little lost after slow cooking.
This package costs $6.99 at my grocery store, and I got it on sale for $5.99. That is a $1 cheaper than the house brand ground beef, and $2 cheaper than the grass-fed variety. Knowing how similar the two products taste, it’s sort of like discovering a cheat code for cheaper groceries.