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Thursday, January 29, 2015 |  Madison, WI: 34.0° F  Overcast
The Daily
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How they stack up
Our admittedly unscientific rating of burger options

McDonald's hamburger

This patty, standing in here for all fast-food burgers, is a good argument for switching to a veggie burger. The meat doesn't really taste like anything other than its fixings - ketchup, mustard, pickles and onions. What difference would it make if it were not actually made of meat?

Eco Rating: 0

Sustainaburger, The Great Dane

The Sustainaburger gets high points for localness. Even grass-fed beef produces a larger carbon footprint than a veggie burger, due to the inherent methane-production of cows, but if you want to eat meat every so often, this is a good option. (Or buy grass-fed beef at a local farmers' market to make your own.)

The Sustainaburger also tastes good. There's a hint of the grassy field in the burger itself; there's real flavor in the meat. Further pleasure comes from the fresh whole-wheat bun, plentiful greens and melted cheese. On the other hand, if you want to go meatless, a portobello mushroom sandwich is also quite satisfying.

Eco Rating: 1.5

Boca Burgers, Gardenburgers, Morningstar Farms Veggie Patties, Amy's Kitchen (organic)

Some people love 'em. Others find these mass-produced veggie patties distasteful, literally. All of these brands produce an ever-expanding range of flavors. The "classic" or flame-grilled varieties attempt to mimic the taste of ground beef. Made from soy protein concentrate with "natural flavor," this is the style most people associate with the words "veggie burger."

Move away from the mock beef patties and you'll find more ingredients that sound like actual food: rice, broccoli, carrots, onions, corn, rolled oats, red and green bell peppers. I find the patties taste better when they're not trying to appear to be meat (Amy's California veggie flavor is my pick for best taste), but even so, a lot of people find themselves "doctoring up" their burgers with condiments.

The greenhouse gas impact is estimated as less than half of a burger made from red meat, but packaging subtracts some points.

Eco Rating: 2

Bulk-bin veggie burger mix, Willy Street Co-op

Buying from bulk bins cuts down on packaging impact. This mix, which looks like a yellowish flour with bits of oats and flecks of dehydrated vegetables, is "Nature's Burger" mix from Fantastic World Foods. It's made with brown rice, barley flakes, sesame seeds, bulgur wheat and a few more flours and vegetable powders. Add hot water and it turns into a substantial dough that can be formed into patties and baked or fried. The mix is made somewhere in the U.S.A., but a company representative couldn't narrow that down.

Fried with enough oil, these Nature's Burger patties can achieve a decent crispness, but what taste there is resembles dehydrated instant soups, with soy/onion predominating. This is one that depends on fixings for better taste. Maybe okay for a backpacking trip.

Eco Rating: 2.5

Walnut Burger from the Trempealeau Hotel

Served at Monty's Blue Plate and sold frozen at the Willy Street Co-op and Woodman's, this walnut burger is tasty enough to make even devoted meat eaters switch. If you want to put on fixings, it'll be to enhance the flavor, not disguise it. What is the secret?

The walnut burger is essentially made of nuts and two kinds of cheese - cheddar and mozzarella. It's the perfect food for people raised chomping on nuts and cheese while watching the Packers. With regard to this patty's eco-impact, the cheese subtracts some points. While the walnut burger is not the healthiest of all options (of its 310 calories, 200 come from fat), it may be the most scrumptious.

Eco Rating: 3.5

Nature's Bakery frozen patties

Nature's Bakery makes three kinds of vegetarian burgers right on Williamson Street: The vegetarian, the grain and the walnut-tofu burger. They don't attempt to mimic the taste of hamburger, but taste great on their own.

The bakery's latest veggie entry, the walnut tofu burger, is delicious. It's wheat-free and vegan and is, of course, nutty. The overall taste seems vaguely familiar, like a walnutty stuffing on Thanksgiving.

The "Amazing Grain" burger has a good texture, but very little taste. It was originally created for people on restricted diets (low-fat, low-sodium), and of all the NB burgers, it's the one that relies most on the fixings you slather it with for its taste.

Eco Rating: 5

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