On Wednesday, McDonald’s will begin the nationwide rollout of its first vegan burger. The McPlant will be available in 18 cities and 250 restaurants, becoming a permanent part of McDonald’s menus everywhere from January.
The chain quietly began a trial run a few weeks back, serving it to customers in its Coventry branches, and burger fans have already been flocking there to try it, with many taking to social media to give their overwhelmingly positive verdicts.
‘No I didn’t just drive 30 miles to try Maccas’ new #McPlant, why’d you ask?’ tweeted one, alongside a picture of said burger and many thumbs up.
‘Yesterday I had my first-ever #McPlant burger and now I can’t stop thinking about it,’ exclaimed another.
Barney Calman and Eve Simmons, pictured, both tried out McDonald’s new meat free burger the McPlant, at a branch in East Finchley ahead of the official launch on Wednesday
The McDonald’s McPlant has 200 fewer calories than the Quarter Pounder with Cheese Deluxe
The McPlant is based on the McDonald’s Quarter Pounder with Cheese Deluxe, but contains a patty developed in collaboration with vegan meat-alternative brand Beyond Meat to taste just like its real beef burgers. Like all Beyond Meat patties, it’s made from a pea and rice protein-textured ‘mince’ combined with starches, colouring and flavouring (naturally derived from ingredients such as beetroot, but highly processed).
The vegan ‘cheese’ is a combination of coconut and other oils, and emulsifiers.
The vegan burger sauce has been ‘taste matched’ to the tangy mayonnaise used in McDonald’s chicken sandwiches.
On Friday, McDonald’s invited MoS Deputy Health Editor Eve Simmons and me to try it at its North London headquarters.
And I can confirm that it tastes EXACTLY like the real thing.
I have to admit, when I heard rumours that McDonald’s was developing a plant-based burger, I was intrigued. I don’t eat meat – I haven’t for the past six years. I got fed up with reading horror headlines about beef products containing ground-up horses and chickens labelled organic actually being from battery farms. I’m not alone: figures show British meat consumption has dropped by 17 per cent over the past decade.
Half a million people signed up to Veganuary this year – spending January eating a purely plant-based diet. The one thing I really miss, though, are burgers – and in particular, McDonald’s. Its Double Cheeseburger was my go-to.
McDonald’s has turned up late to the fake-meat party. Something of a novelty a few years back, beef-a-like patties can be found everywhere from Burger King to Harvester. McDonald’s took its time to get the formula right ‘so it tastes like a McDonald’s burger,’ explained its food technologist as she prepared our McPlants.
The McPlant will be rolled out on Wednesday in 18 cities and 250 restaurants before going nationwide in January
It was worth it: the McPlant hits all the McDonald’s sweet spots – the ratio of bun to burger, the sweet tang of the ketchup and sauce, the shredded lettuce and little bits of onion, and those gherkin slices.
Eve was less impressed. ‘Bland,’ was her verdict. ‘It doesn’t taste like beef. Gristly yet melty. The only thing that was really like the original is the sauce.’
She claims she likes McDonald’s burgers usually, but admits, despite being a meateater, she can’t remember when she last had one. So I’m not convinced by her appraisal.
More to the point, Eve is one of the first British journalists to sample Beyond Meat’s burgers – interestingly, it launched its fake-meat patty a few years back at technology trade show CES, in Las Vegas, which she was covering at the time. She was unimpressed then, and remains so.
To check whether I was imagining just how convincing the McPlant is, I decided to forgo my vegetarianism and ordered a Big Mac and a Quarter Pounder. The Quarter Pounder patty, interestingly, has a far meatier chargrilled taste than the Bic Mac patty.
Flavour-wise, I think you’d be hard-pressed to tell the difference between the Big Mac and the McPlant. With the McPlant you could also be doing your health a favour: at just 450 calories, almost 200 fewer than the meat version, it’s practically diet food.
As we’ve highlighted in the past, this isn’t always the case with vegan alternatives. For instance, trendy burger chain Honest Burgers does a bacon plant burger – also made with a Beyond Meat patty, albeit a far larger one than in the McPlant – and the fake bacon slices tot up to almost 1,000 calories. And that’s before you add chips.
The burger contains a patty developed in collaboration with vegan meat-alternative brand Beyond Meat to taste just like its real beef burgers
Pea-protein mince is naturally pretty dry, and Beyond Meat creates juiciness by adding coconut oil. This means, in the case of Honest Burger’s bacon plant burger, the chunky patty has just as much fat as the meaty version – at 14g, this is three-quarters of a woman’s and half of a man’s daily recommended allowance of saturated fat. It also contains 14g of sugar, almost half your daily recommended allowance.
By comparison, the McPlant contains 6.6g sat fat, half the amount in the meat version, and 19g of protein, just 5g less than a beef one. The two and a half teaspoons of sugar will, mostly, come from the condiments and bun – sugar is third on the list of bun ingredients, after flour and water.
The most mysterious thing is the high fibre content. Beyond Meat burgers are usually low fibre, but the McPlant has almost 5g of fibre, roughly the same as a small bowl of porridge, contributing to the 30g a day recommended.
The burger is made out of pea protein mince but McDonald’s are tight-lipped about the exact formula
This is almost double the amount of fibre found in a standard McDonald’s Quarter Pounder or Big Mac – which include just as much bun, if not more, and garnishes – so it must be a modification to the patty.
McDonald’s remains tight-lipped about its exact formulas.
Of course, I understand that to a red-blooded meat eater this all might sound revolting, but along with the McDonald’s partnership, in February Beyond Meat signed a deal with Yum! Brands, which owns Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell, meaning these products will be in the majority of fast-food chains fairly soon. So it looks ever more likely that fake meat will be a permanent fixture on menus.