Like many industries, the plant-based meat business is in free fall. The two big names in plant-based protein, Beyond Meat and Impossible Foods, have been laying off workers amid dwindling sales. Bloomberg went as far as to declare their products “just another fad.”
Plant-based business may not be booming, but that hasn’t stopped fast food chains from getting in on the action. Smashburger launched its new plant-based burger—not with Beyond or Impossible, though, but with up-and-comer Jack & Annie’s. Rather than relying on soy or lab-modified proteins, Jack & Annie’s primary ingredient is jackfruit.
What’s Smashburger’s jackfruit veggie burger like?
Jackfruit are ginormous. Jack & Annie shares that a Jack tree “can produce up to 200 jackfruit a year, each weighing up to 100 pounds.” The trees are also “resistant to drought, heat, and pests,” and the fruit is rich in fiber and protein while being lean on fat.
Personally, I typically don’t really care for most meat substitutes. Like most people who went to a liberal arts college, I was a vegetarian for a year when I was 19 and managed to convince myself that I enjoyed the various plant-based proteins I was eating. Since returning to my carnivorous roots, I occasionally try to consume vegan “meat” and often end up spitting it out. But I had never heard of a jackfruit-based meat alternative before. According to my token vegan friend, using jackfruit as a meat alternative is somewhat common.
You can get Smashburger’s new plant-based patty on any of the company’s signature sandwiches, but I stuck with the Classic Smash Burger, which comes with American cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, red onions, pickles, “Smash Sauce” (which tastes like mustard), and ketchup. After a few minutes, they brought the burger out to me on a dainty wire plate with a flag perched on the top. The burger was overflowing with toppings; it wasn’t a sad-looking burger.
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At a first glance, the patty doesn’t look particularly interesting, other than perhaps being a bit lighter in color than a traditional meat patty. It’s disappointingly thin, but all smash burgers are, given the “smash” part. After sinking my teeth in, my first thought was, “This tastes exactly like a Boca burger.” I went in expecting to only take two bites but ended up finishing the whole thing. It didn’t make a big impression, but it wasn’t bad either.
So, should you order Smashburger’s new veggie burger?
Maybe. If you’re a vegetarian who finds yourself cajoled into going to Smashburger with a group of people and it would be awkward if you only ordered fries, then sure. But unless you’re trying to avoid social discomfort, I don’t see this burger being worth anyone’s while. It costs $8.49 before tax, and for less than half that, you can get a 4-pack of identical-tasting Boca burgers and make almost the exact same sandwich at home.
Interestingly, Smashburger’s website claims that the chain already sells black bean burgers for its vegan clientele; however, they don’t seem to be offered at the locations that are offering the jackfruit burger. The implication here is that if the jackfruit trial is successful, the chain will presumably roll it out nationwide to replace the black bean burger. I hope that doesn’t happen, though, and that people are given their choice of what to order. I have a feeling I know which one they’d pick.