The Truth About Veggie Burgers | Seventh Generation
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The Truth About Veggie Burgers

Author: the Inkslinger

We were saved by veggie burgers. When the price of our favorite healthier meat, bison, went through the roof and it became clear that beef should be eaten sparingly as a way to help the planet, easy-to-make vegetarian patties became our go-to entrée.

And go we did with wild abandon because these are little wonders of tasty vegetable goodness. We felt good about switching to a sustainable protein source, plus there are all kinds of varieties and flavors available at the market, and you can make a satisfying dinner in seconds flat.

Yes indeed, we loved us our veggie burgers. Until I read this little piece of wholly unappetizing news from the Cornucopia Institute, which told me that the soy protein used as the foundation for many veggie burgers (and soy-based foods in general) is obtained by a less-than-savory chemical process -- ground beans are soaked in a gasoline by-product called n-hexane to remove the oil and leave soy protein behind for use in food. Doesn't sound too yummy.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but hexane is all kinds of wrong. It's a hyperactive neurotoxin suspected of also being a potent carcinogen. And when it's used to process soy, unhealthy traces of it remain behind in the resulting protein that's increasingly central to our supposedly sustainable food supply.

To which I say, please pass the organic veggie burgers. Organic standards prohibit the use of chemically-extracted soy ingredients. That said, there are non-certified organic products that also use safe mechanical extraction methods for their soy protein. This chart from the Cornucopia Institute offers good guideposts.

Or there's this: make your own. Since we started cooking up homemade veggie burgers, we haven't bought a single pre-fab patty. There's just no need. Here's one of our favorite recipes:

Chickpea Spinach Veggie Burgers

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds
5 ounces fresh spinach
1 1/2 cups cooked chickpeas
Diced shredded carrots (optional)
Finely diced onion (optional)
1 crushed clove of garlic (optional)
2 eggs
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup chickpea flour or more if needed (Make your own by grinding dried chickpeas to a powder or look for "gram flour" in Indian grocery stores or food sections)

  1. Heat 1 teaspoon of the oil in a skillet. Add the cumin seeds and spinach and cook a few minutes until the spinach is wilted. Let cool then squeeze out as much liquid as possible and finely chop.
  2. Combine 1 1/4 cups of the chickpeas, the eggs, lemon juice, and salt in a food processor. Pulse the mixture until it looks like chunky hummus.
  3. In a large bowl, combine the spinach with the last 1/4 cup chick peas and any optional veggies you're adding (feel free to experiment!). Mash coarsely with a potato masher. Stir in the bean-egg mixture then fold in the chickpea flour. The mixture should be sticky yet moldable. Add more flour, 1 teaspoon at a time, if it's too wet, or a bit of water if too dry. Sculpt into 5 patties.
  4. In an oven-safe skillet, heat the remaining oil over medium-high heat. Add the patties and brown on each side. Transfer the pan to the oven and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until the burgers firm up and cook all the way through.

This recipe is adapted from Veggie Burgers Every Which Way: Fresh, Flavorful and Healthy Vegan and Vegetarian Burgers-Plus Toppings, Sides, Buns and More by Lukas Volger, a cookbook I cannot recommend highly enough as a resource you'll wonder how you ever lived without.

Bon appétit!



Amanda8512 picture
Hi Kristi, I would be interested to hear what else Gardein said about this. Thanks
kristi mclaughlin picture
kristi mclaughlin
I contacted Gardein and they reassured me that THEY DID NOT use hexane-extracted soy products. To quote, " We do not use hexane in the processing of our products and hexane is not used or present in our plant." They did say they are "not organic." If anyone would be interested in their entire response, please let me know.
vegetlike picture
I made the above recipe, not exactly how it was printed. Didn't have any lemons, so I used lemonade. Left carrot pieces too big, or so I thought. These are delicious! Thank you, Seventh Gen, for providing this recipe.
monica picture
If you contact the company, they will let you know that they do not use the hexane process for their soy based foods.
mmargie9279 picture
I didn't know this about veggie burgers at all and will certainly never buy another Boca Burger again, EEW! My husband and I love to make these black bean burgers from scratch. They are healthy, delicious and easy to make. No baking required--just fry them in a little grapeseed oil or olive oil for 5 min on each side and they come out perfectly crisp. Serve them with some ketchup, mustard and a sliver of avocado :) The recipe comes from
traceysmith picture
Or try nuts instead of beans
flscrub picture
A slightly less alarmist take on the subject with more links to develop your own opinion on the subject...
Weatherlight picture
Just lots of it concentrated into a little package of suffering and death :) 20 pounds of soy in each pound of beef, etc etc. Most of the calories, protein, etc get used up and exit the animal, but guess where the lipid-soluble chemicals go? Duh. Plus, you think your styrofoam-and-plastic-wrapped corpses have never seen an ounce of GMO plant in its life? You must also believe it's full of fiber, vitamin C, and antioxidants, with no saturated fat, methionine, or cholesterol whatsoever. All this fuss about a tiny bit of hexane maybe still in your soy, or GMO crops that are harmless other than sprayed with a bit more pesticide than usual, while consuming far worse things... The same reasons to avoid beef apply to any type of dead animal (except roadkill, dumpster meat, and disposed-of cats/dogs/humans if you're talking environmental/ethical, but of course not if you're talking about health).
Brittany picture
For those who have reported in the comments that they're too busy to cook, maybe you can do your week's worth of cooking during 2-3 free hours on the weekend (or whatever your day off is). As a graduate student who has been working 12 hours a day for most of the past few weeks, I've found that the only way to keep eating healthy at school is to spend a few hours on food prep every weekend so that I can just pop a frozen-but-homemade veggie burger in the oven, or throw together a few pre-chopped vegetables for a salad or stir fry. You might have to sacrifice your TV time... or move the TV to where you can see it in the kitchen. :)
ptron picture
Our family has been enjoying Gardein products for a couple years now and I was disappointed to see them on the toxic list. I contacted the company and I was assured that although they did not use certified organic soy, that they did not use any hexane in the processing of any of their products and that all the soy was not GMO. I would like to know why the list included in the blog has their products listed as ones to avoid so I can get to the bottom of this!
the Inkslinger picture
the Inkslinger
We use 350 degree for the baking portion of the chick pea burger recipe. But it's more an art than a science, so I would say anything within 25 degrees of this in either direction would do finer. Your mileage may vary so keep an eye on 'em until you've figured it out. In terms of which store-bought veggie burgers are okay, click the link to the report in my post then click the link near the top of the resulting page for the online guide to veggie burgers. It will tell you which brands once are hexane-extracted-soy-free.
JS Legs picture
JS Legs
Being a vegan in a busy household means that making my own burgers just isn't really an option. However, being allergic to soy has also meant the quest for soy-free vegan foods, which can be rather hard to locate. There are some excellent frozen burgers that are both soy-free and vegan, so I figured I'd post a few options for anyone interested. Our personal favorite are Amy's Sonoma burgers, which are quinoa based. Amy's also makes the soy-free California burger. Then there are Sunshine Burgers. I don't remember which varieties we get, but the ones we gotten have all been vegan and soy-free. So, if you look hard enough, there are option for us vegans that don't have free-time and want to avoid the soy. :)
sillykittygirl51 picture
I love(d) Boca burgers until I read about the hexane in soy products and after spending too much time reading labels, found out that Amy's veggie burgers are all hexane free, and delicious. They have a great variety to chose from too!
sandy burn picture
sandy burn
interesting! There is always a back story...very Hollywood
ruthla picture
I puree about a cup and a half of cooked black beans, add 4-5 eggs, 1/4 cup rice flour, and spices- generally onion powder, garlic powder, salt, and a dash of cayenne pepper. Then I fry these in olive oil. I've tried it with white beans too, and it tastes just like potato latkes, but higher in protein.
nrs20 picture
Thank you for the info on the potential carcinogens in veggie burgers...unfortunately I don't have time to make my own so my question there a certain brand that is better than the others??
aubreybean picture
Thanks for passing on the info and it sounds like an awesome recipe. I'm really curious what your job is though -- how do you find the time & energy to always make your own veggie burgers? I work full-time and have had to resort to a lot of frozen stuff because I am simply way too tired and sore (especially in the feet department) after work to invest in cooking. I used to cook 90% of my meals at home, but now I pretty much only cook on weekends. I've gained weight because of it. :/ I don't know the way around it.
ForestLady picture
Looks like a great recipe I'd like to try. What oven temperature do you bake them at?
richieandmona picture
By "vegetarian entrees", do you mean ALL gardein products? =/
mvcoffman picture
Daniel -- We, too, used to LOVE quorn! My family gobbled up the patties with the cheese inside, and even now I remember the nuggets fondly. It was a go-to product for me to serve when I needed a quick meal. Dang it if quorn isn't made from a fungi that very often causes allergic reactions - often sudden, unpleasant ones, even after many times of eating the product without a problem. One night last year I served the quorn patties that we loved. Within an hour or two, my husband developed an incredible rash all over his torso that didn't go away for two days. We were very confused. The next day he researched quorn on a friend's advice to see whether it could have caused the reaction. Lo and behold, it's known to cause severe allergic reactions. I'm still bummed, but we don't eat it anymore. I wouldn't serve it to kids. Check out these articles, or Google 'quorn allergy.'
ektucker picture
I've been a vegetarian for 17 years and love veggie burgers, so thanks for the recipe. You could also mash up black beans or lentils for burgers and they stick together pretty well. You can also bind the burgers together with grated Parmesan cheese or other cheese (or even a vegetarian cheese - not rennet-based) to add a salty component. To make my food healthier, I never use oil. You could cook the burgers in a cooking spray or even bake them to make them healthier.
karob picture
As someone above stated correctly, most soy produced in America is the genetically modified "Roundup Ready" soy. If you're not familiar with this term, you should be. The story is that the chemists at a Monsanto plant noticed that there was a bacteria/organism actually living in their toxic waste dump where nothing else what did they do? They reproduced this bacteria and inserted its genes into soybeans. The end result? A soybean that will withstand otherwise lethal doses of Roundup pesticide. So now the farmers have to buy these GMO soybean seeds, plus huge amounts of pesticide, both made by Monsanto. Yum! The point it so make sure whatever soy product you buy (veggie burgers, soymilk, edamame, etc) clearly says on the label NON-GMO. If not, don't buy it. And thanks to the Cornucopia Institute for the great chart on hexane-free products!
suecag picture
Animals that are consumed by people are fed soy. They are the top consumers of soy. So why is it only about veggie burgers?
daniel picture
Our doctor advised us to limit the amount of soy our son has when he's a child growing up because of the large amounts of the Hormone Estrogen in soy naturally. Then we discovered that he was allergic to soy so that made his soy intake had to be minimal. So we turned to an amazing and delicious super-food called Quorn. Ouorn comes in many forms including a "turkey" burger. Its yummy and my son gets to eat "chik'n" nuggets which is something in my opinion every kid should enjoy!
arroyowash picture
Most of the American soybean crop – more than 90 percent – is genetically modified. Soy also has one of the highest percentages contamination by pesticides of any of the foods we eat. When harsh alkaline soaking solutions are used in aluminum tanks during production, high levels of aluminum leech into the final product – be it soy milk, soy-based infant formula, or soy protein isolate and textured vegetable protein (TVP) which are used extensively in school lunch programs, commercial baked goods, fast food products, and diet beverages. Numerous artificial flavorings, particularly MSG, are added to TVP products to mask their strong "beany" taste, and impart the flavor of meat.
jjerribug picture
When I crave a burger I love a portabella smothered in goat cheese & topped w/roasted red peppers like this -
Debra picture
thanks so much for this think you are eating healthy and yet once again it's all about money