A thick, juicy burger is the ultimate craveable indulgence, and that’s why it’s one of the most-ordered items on any menu, from the counter of the local diner to the most upscale spot in town. But many diners wrestle with the impact of red meat consumption on their own health and the health of the planet. Chefs and operators, facing skyrocketing beef prices, wonder if there’s a way to satisfy customer concerns, cut food costs and still manage to plate up a burger that’s satisfying and delicious.
According to Amy Myrdal Miller, the solution is as close as the nearest flat of white button or cremini mushrooms. “Adding mushrooms to beef can have some amazing effects,” says the president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting, culinary nutrition expert, and manager of The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) Healthy Menus R&D Collaborative (HMC).
Converting the carnivores
As part of a mushroom sensory study she and CIA colleagues conducted at University of California – Davis, even people who were self-described “meat and potatoes” lovers preferred a taco meat combination in which mushrooms were blended with the beef. “Referring to mushrooms as a stretcher or replacement doesn’t really do justice for this ingredient,” Miller says. “They add a big hit of umami flavor and enhance moisture retention, too. They make meat taste ‘meatier’ and more savory.”
How to menu
Consumer insight has indicated the term “blend” is the most readily accepted way to discuss the marriage of meat and mushroom. “I suspect that’s because many consumers, especially more food-aware ones, are familiar with the concept of ‘blends’ of wine, so it makes sense the them.”
Mushroom-meat blends are an alternative for diners who “love meat and want to feel better about eating it,” Miller says. “They can still have the beef they love, but, with mushrooms blended in, it will have an even better flavor, aroma and texture. Consumers want beef, but they also want feel-good foods. Blends offer the whole package: taste, cost, sustainability and nutrition.”
The benefits, Miller says, are boundless. “Not only will a blended burger have a positive impact on food costs, it’s also a planet-friendly solution, which might be a conversation topic on the menu, or for servers to discuss with diners,” she says. And mushrooms themselves are a highly sustainable food source. “They grow indoors, and very quickly, and they don’t take up much land or water,” Miller explains.