Vegans and plant-based folks rejoice! The “fake” meat revolution is upon us (fake because it’s plant product imitating animal product, not because it’s not real food). There have never been more options in more mainstream joints to get meat-free ideations of your favorite foods. Most major fast food chains have jumped on the plant-based bandwagon with one glaring exception: McDonald’s.
McDonald’s hasn’t struck a deal with Beyond Meat or Impossible Foods. Why? Well, it turns out they’re going their own way. Right now, McDonald’s is testing out its own plant-based burger patty (from Garden Gourmet) in Germany called the Big Vegan TS. This is a pretty big power move by the fast food giant. Basically, they’re throwing down the vegan gauntlet by testing out the viability of a lesser-known plant-based “meat” in one of their biggest international markets.
Lucky for you, I’m living in Berlin, Germany this summer and have seen the Big Vegan TS advertised everywhere. Having already tried the Impossible Foods burger from Umami Burger and Carl’s Jr.’s Beyond Meat burger, I knew I had to try McDonald’s Big Vegan TS too.
First, let’s dive into what we’re dealing with here. For about $4, you get a burger that’s about the size of a Quarter Pounder (it’s on the same bun). On that toasted bun, you get leaf lettuce, two slices of tomato, thinly sliced red onion, pickle, mustard, and ketchup on top of their vegan plant-based burger patty. It should be noted, you can completely customize the burger with anything on the McDonald’s menu. Though, I didn’t do that here. I order it as it comes.
The patty is a mix of soy, barley malt, and wheat proteins with beetroot, carrot, and pepper alongside a few spices and coconut oils. So, this one is not currently gluten-free (Impossible also started out not gluten-free, though it is now).
My first impression was to register shock at how much the actual burger looked like the photo. Honestly, it is a rare sight when a burger lives up to marketing propaganda. The lettuce was actually fresh and crisp. The tomatoes had heft and real umami flavor. The red onion was sparse but sharp. The pickles, ketchup, and mustard had that nostalgic McDonald’s tang and sweetness.
This looked … good. Just as advertised.
The first bite was pleasant enough. Right away, I noticed I was not eating a meat-patty burger. The patty here is deep-fried giving it a crisp outer layer and a soft, grainy interior. I’d say the McDonald’s patty is more in-line with Beyond Meat than Impossible Foods — that is, you know it’s not meat immediately.
Still, the consistency was pleasant and the crispiness of the deep-fried aspect was a nice changeup (though a burger that’s not grilled is a little jarring). Carl’s Jr.’s won points for adding a real flame-grilled essence to their patty and Umami Burger had a real off-the-greasy-flat-top vibe. This was not that.
More disappointing, after a couple of bites, it got a little dry. Even with all the accruements.
I ate the second half of the patty on its own. And it’s pretty damn dry. That being said, no one is going to be tossing all the toppings and bread aside to eat just the plant-based patty. So, I guess, take taste testing the patty on its own with a grain of salt.
Where McDonald’s might dominate, though, is the fact that you can already switch out pretty much any meat patty on the regular menu with their plant-based patty. That means you can totally order a Big Mac, Quarter Pounder, Double Cheeseburger, whatever, with this patty on it instead. So, whereas most other fast food joints seem to relegate their plant-based burgers and options to single menu items, McDonald’s is going all in, making their whole damn menu adaptable.
That alone could be a game changer. Especially if they start working with a better product.