Blended Burgers are a Big, Beefy Trend
The meat-and-mushroom blended burger has journeyed from inception phase to one of culinary’s top trends in less than a decade, neatly bringing a full package of health, flavor and sustainability to the menu. We share the secrets of the blended burger below, along with recipes to help you bring this umami-rich dish into the spotlight.
It began in 2011 with an eye-opening study from the Culinary Institute of America, the University of California and the Mushroom Council, designed to test consumer acceptance of mushrooms as a partial substitute for meat in classic dishes such as burgers. Mushrooms as hero ingredient came into full focus as participants indicated a marked preference for blended meat over 100-percent beef, citing its enhanced aroma, flavor, texture and moistness. Even ratcheting down the sodium by 25 percent didn’t dampen the enthusiasm, with tasters describing it as “just about right.” Clearly, it was time to tap into mushrooms’ mass appeal.
Enter the James Beard Foundation (JBF), intrigued by the strong connection to its mission of creating a more diverse and sustainable food culture. The Blended Burger Project was born in 2015, a national competition encouraging chefs to sub in one quarter of a recipe’s beef with mushrooms to create a unique, marketable and truly better burger.
Remembers Sarah Drew, JBF impact programs manager: “Enthusiasm for this initiative was strong right out of the gate, with 200 restaurants participating. Over the last four years combined, more than 1,000 restaurants across the nation have joined the project and nearly three million consumers cast votes for their favorite local blended burger.”
Success begat more success, as Blended Burger Project winners reaped the promotional value of their prize-worthy creations on the menu, attracting diners looking for a not-quite-meatless bridge to healthier eating.
As Drew explains, the rise of the plant-forward diet, focus on nutrition and recognition of mushrooms as both model of sustainable production and top culinary trend created a perfect storm around the blended burger concept. Now a much-anticipated yearly event, hundreds of chefs are chopping and sauteeing their way to an all-expenses-paid trip to cook at the James Beard House in New York this summer.
Learn more at: Jamesbeard.org/blendedburgerproject