The Greatest Veggie Burger. The World Has Ever Known.

Hi-Tech Mushroom Burger
Hi-Tech Mushroom Burger

Having been a vegetarian for 30 years, I’ve eaten my share of veggie burgers. The problem with most mass-produced veggie burgers is that they taste bland and vaguely chemical, while most homemade versions have terrible texture issues. They are generally mushy, and who wants to bite through a soft bun into a mushy patty that falls apart on impact? Meh. If you can pile on enough condiments, they can be ok. But I’ve yet to eat a vegetarian burger that I’m actually excited to sink my teeth into.

Until now.

Ben Johnson and the rest of the ChefSteps crew were working on meat burgers and condiments for a future set of recipes, and of course they wanted to tackle a veggie burger too. We got to chatting about the work that work that my friend Eddie Shepherd had done on binding mushrooms with an an enzyme known as transglutaminase, and realized that it might be ideal for creating a vegetable based burger that had the textural “snap” of a meat burger.

Ben’s results are way beyond what I could have hoped for. The mushrooms are roasted first to develop maximum flavor and drive off water, and they are 95% of the total product, so the taste is a big fat wallop of umami that compliments the condiments instead of hiding under them. Searing the patty in a  hot skillet creates a beautiful, crisp, rich crust that just needs a generous hit of salt to be mind-blowing.

You might be wondering about the transglutaminase. Perhaps that sounds a little frightening, but it really is nothing to worry about. It is an an enzyme, and we all have lots of it in our blood. Its function is to stick proteins together. The culinary version is made by bacterial fermentation. Initially used for relatively low-quality products like imitation krab, modern chefs have adapted it for more sophisticated purposes. Since mushrooms don’t have a lot of protein, in this recipe they get infused with milk proteins which the transglutaminase can bond. So the recipe is vegetarian, but not vegan. It is probably possible to make it using soy protein and a different version of transglutaminase that doesn’t come pre-mixed with more casein, but we don’t have a firm recipe for that to offer.

Hi-Tech Mushroom Burger
Vegetarian
Yields 1 kilo

  • 1500 grams mushrooms
  • 50 grams sodium caseinate
  • 50 grams Activa RM (transglutaminase)
  • 10 grams salt
  • 2 grams MSG

Watch the video and get the full recipe at ChefSteps. There is also a terrific black-bean version.

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Posted by Michael Natkin on Thursday, May 8th, 2014 in Kid Friendly, Main Courses, Recipes.

29 Responses to “The Greatest Veggie Burger. The World Has Ever Known.”

  1. Tracey
    May 8, 2014 at 5:21 pm #

    Is this a joke?
    …. MSG?

    It has to be a joke..? Right? I think I missed the punch line.

    • May 8, 2014 at 5:26 pm #

      Actually MSG is totally fine. If you eat Parmesan cheese, tomatoes, shiitake mushrooms, etc, you are eating lots of glutamates. There have been great double blind studies that show that the people that think they are affected by it are simply experiencing a placebo effect. You can read all about it on wikipedia: link to en.wikipedia.org

  2. Joe Seattle
    May 10, 2014 at 5:47 pm #

    A veggie burger with MSG – you have got to be out of your mind to add this to your diet. MSG is so bad for you!

  3. Tammy
    May 11, 2014 at 3:28 pm #

    Wikipedia is not a very credible reference, and there are many studies published in peer-reviewed medical journals that say otherwise.

    • May 11, 2014 at 8:07 pm #

      You are right, it is great to look at the peer reviewed medical literature. And if you look at every single study that has been done correctly (double blind, placebo controlled, and with the MSG given in a gelatin capsule so the tasters can’t tell whether they are getting MSG or the placebo), there has been no observed effect. For example, see this study that was published in Food and Chemical Toxicology. The conclusion was: “71 healthy subjects were treated with placebos and monosodium L-glutamate (MSG) doses of 1.5, 3.0 and 3.15 g/person, which represented a body mass-adjusted dose range of 0.015–0.07 g/kg body weight before a standardized breakfast over 5 days. The study used a rigorous randomized double-blind crossover design that controlled for subjects who had MSG after-tastes. Capsules and specially formulated drinks were used as vehicles for placebo and MSG treatments. Subjects mostly had no responses to placebo (86%) and MSG (85%) treatments. Sensations, previously attributed to MSG, did not occur at a significantly higher rate than did those elicited by placebo treatment. A significant (P < 0.05) negative correlation between MSG dose and after-effects was found. The profound effect of food in negating the effects of large MSG doses was demonstrated. The common practice of extrapolating food-free experimental results to ‘in use’ situations was called into question. An exhaustive review of previous methodologies identified the strong taste of MSG as the factor invalidating most ‘blind’ and ‘double-blind’ claims by previous researchers. The present study led to the conclusion that ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’ is an anecdote applied to a variety of postprandial illnesses; rigorous and realistic scientific evidence linking the syndrome to MSG could not be found." Here's the link if you'd like to read more. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/027869159390012N . If you can cite a peer reviewed paper that has all 3 of those controls and shows an effect, I’d love to read it.

  4. May 12, 2014 at 5:50 am #

    Can’t wait to try this Michael. I actually picked up some sodium caseinate and activa RM a few weeks ago in NYC when I was passing through just to make this. It’ll be my first time working with both of them, but the process looks pretty straightforward! Think I’ll be making a half-batch to start.

    • May 12, 2014 at 6:16 am #

      That’s awesome that you already have the ingredients on hand!

  5. Su Cooper
    May 14, 2014 at 5:09 am #

    Hello, Ihave been extremly afraid of cooking Tofu. Attempted to make Tofu Scrambler and failed miserably. However, I did get enough courage to try it in a Stir-fry and it was really good. I live in Northern, NJ and would love to take a class in preparing Tofu that’s how serious I am about it. I really want to try this. Why is MSG added and Is it really necessary? Just asking…..

    • May 15, 2014 at 5:43 am #

      Yes, you can make the veggie burger without MSG if you like. It is there for enhanced umami, and it is quite harmless (see comments above), but you can certainly omit it. Re tofu, this article may be helpful to you: link to herbivoracious.com

  6. Su Cooper
    May 15, 2014 at 6:05 am #

    Thank you Michael for responding. Currently doing a lot of researching on becoming a Vegetarian. I did it for four years and failed miserably. I wasn’t ready and I did not do a lot of research. Now I’m taking my time and taking one day at a time. I wnat to make the Mushroom Burgers the recipe sounds yummy. I could use some help with converting the grams.

    1500 grams mushrooms (4 Cups),
    50 grams sodium caseinate (3 Tablesponns and 3 teaspoons),
    50 grams Activa RM (transglutaminase),
    10 grams salt (2 teaspoon),
    2 grams MSG(1/4 teaspoons)

    Thanks again, truly inspriring.

    • May 17, 2014 at 7:37 am #

      Hey Su – for a slightly technical recipe like this, I’d really recommend investing in an inexpensive digital scale. You’ll get much more predictable results. Here are our recommendations: link to chefsteps.com . And by the way, the best way to cook these burgers is to sear them hard in a cast iron skillet with enough oil to develop a good crust.

  7. Su Cooper
    May 17, 2014 at 10:00 am #

    Thank you. I agree. Trying to upgrade my utilities for the kitchen and a scale would definitely be helpful. Thanks again for responding. I will let you know when I’ve completed the burger mission. LOL

  8. Nen
    May 21, 2014 at 6:12 pm #

    I love you michael

  9. Karina
    May 25, 2014 at 2:09 pm #

    Thank you so much for helping fight the stigma against MSG. Like salt or sugar, anything in moderation is fine. Love the blog!

  10. July 6, 2014 at 9:42 am #

    I was here to search veggie food, and I got it, plus i got the bonus about MSG knowldge. Thanks

  11. July 11, 2014 at 9:44 pm #

    Wow, that looks really unhealthy. MSG (truly terrible for your health and, despite what some studies show, many people are allergic to it, including my mother who gets violently ill and has to be hospitatlized), sodium caseinate (has links to high incidences of cancer in more than one study, and of autism in children) and 10 grams of salt, not to mention the Activa RM . Honestly, this one is barely ‘food’, but considering what so many Americans eat that most other countries wouldn’t touch if their lives depended on it I’m probably not that surprised.

    Usually love your recipes, but wouldn’t touch this one with a 10 foot :)

    • Susie
      July 23, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

      Sodium caseinate has links to autism in children? (facedesk) I mean, if you don’t want to eat it, you don’t have to–but that’s not proven remotely to be true. Not even remotely. (Biased personal experiences are not conclusive evidence.)

      PS, I have autism. So keeping up on this sort of information is kind of important to me. Please don’t go throwing us around as a reason to stay away from various things without bedrock evidence. Autism has a huge genetic component anyway–twin and family studies indicate that.

      As far as people being allergic to MSG–some people are deathly allergic to peanuts, should none of us then cook with peanuts or write recipes that have peanuts in them? the whole initial MSG scare was based on bad science. For most people, it’s fine–for people who have sensitivities, obviously they should avoid this recipe and choose another one.

  12. Jackie
    July 20, 2014 at 6:39 pm #

    Despite MSG studies this is a recipe I’ll definitely be skipping.

  13. July 28, 2014 at 1:43 am #

    I am allergic to MSG and so cannot try this one but it looks fantastic! I wish we could have excluded the MSG part in order to make it more healthy and complete. Rest, it deserves a try for sure. Thanks for sharing information :)

  14. Sandra
    August 2, 2014 at 11:37 am #

    Michael,

    I’m having trouble finding Sodium Caseinate. Any ideas where online I might order it?

    I’d like to give these a try.

    Thanks!

  15. juana
    August 4, 2014 at 4:03 pm #

    msg is totally dangerous, it is unfortunate that you are using it. I am a dietician and nutritionist and the research is out there. You should remove this from your site and do your research. thanks

  16. Sandra
    August 5, 2014 at 1:57 am #

    Thanks, Michael.

  17. Doob
    August 29, 2014 at 4:04 am #

    Some folks simply need to chill out, and just move on.

  18. September 1, 2014 at 8:12 am #

    First, I always love hearing the phrase “(so and so) is harmful despite what scientific studies and doctors say”. It means that, to retire, I need only rekindle the market for dowsing rods, reike, or some variant of “Airborne”.

    Second, I’ve been wondering how the world can’t seem to produce a “textural” veggie burger. They tend, inevitably, to crumble to pieces or taste like some kind of packing material. (This is most often the case when it is thrown on a menu as a “token” vegetarian option.)

    I didn’t realize that transglutaminase would work on other proteins. Can you actually bind vegetable proteins at all or? As for those who fear it, I suspect they’d also be frightened off by sodium chloride or dihydrogen monoxide. (Too much of either is guaranteed fatal. Even a tiny amount of the former in your lungs can cause violent coughing.)

    The one caveat is that, in at least my first search for a source, it came up at ~$90 for two pounds. Fortunately, there are some other sources for MUCH less.

    dB

    • September 1, 2014 at 3:27 pm #

      I will take 3 dowsing rods as soon as you have them available. Transglutaminase doesn’t care too much what protein, it just needs protein, so it should be possible to dose with soy protein as well if you don’t feel like using casein. A good place to buy it in small quantities is at modernistpantry.com: link to modernistpantry.com

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