13/07/2018 15:53 SAST | Updated 13/07/2018 15:53 SAST

The Blend: A Cooking Technique That Makes Red Meat More Nutritious

Adding one unfussy ingredient to your burgers can help your health and the planet.


Whether you cook them on the braai or the stove, burgers are always a favourite. But eating too much beef can have consequences on your health and the environment.

If only there were a way to eat less red meat without feeling like you're eating less red meat.

Turns out there is, and it's called The Blend. Here's what you need to know about making the switch.

Red Meat And Your Health

Red meat ― an umbrella term for any meat that looks red when raw (yes, that means bacon and lamb, too) ― gets its coloor from its high concentration of a protein called myoglobin.

It has plenty of nutrients, but it's also high in calories and fat, which the American Heart Association says puts you at higher risk for heart disease. Frequent consumption has also been linked to cancer, obesity and an increased risk of premature death.

Eating more plants is the ultimate way to help prevent these diet-related illnesses, said Sydney Greene, a registered dietitian at Middleberg Nutrition in New York City. She recommends sticking to a palm-sized portion of red meat every other week and choosing grass-fed to ensure optimal levels of essential nutrients like iron and omega-3 fatty acids.

Red Meat And The Earth's Health

South Africans eat a lot of red meat, just like Americans — consumption in the U.S. averaged almost 100kg per capita in 2017, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Producing all that meat is taking a toll on our planet.

Beyond fossil fuel-guzzling farms and factories, the meat industry only thrives with massive amounts of pesticides, fertiliser, feed and water. In turn, it spits out greenhouse gases, manure and toxic waste.

Greenhouse gas emissions for red meat are 10 to 40 times more than those of grains and vegetables, according to a lifecycle analysis from the Environmental Working Group that looked at the production and distribution of 20 common agricultural products.

Growing U.S. livestock feed alone requires 60-million hectares of land, 75-million kilograms of pesticides and more than 7.5-billion kilograms of nitrogen fertiliser. Their care contributes to air and water pollution, soil degradation and climate change.

Sustainable ranching methods mean red meat production has eco-friendly potential, and organisations like the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef are working toward an environmentally sound industry. Still, reducing your consumption of manufactured red meat is a very green lifestyle change.

Enter The Blend

Going vegetarian isn't the only option. An innovative cooking technique lets omnivores have their cake and eat it, too.

And by cake, we mean red meat.

The Blend is essentially a beef-mushroom hybrid. It was created as an educational initiative of culinary leaders called The Healthy Menus R&D Collaborative, the result of a partnership between the Culinary Institute of America and the Mushroom Council.

It incorporates finely chopped, potassium-packed mushrooms with ground meat to make flavorful dishes ― think extra-juicy burgers and savoury tacos. By cutting red meat with hearty veggies, you'll simultaneously shrink your carbon footprint and improve your health.

A number of chefs have hopped on board with The Blend's unique flavour, and Menus of Change, an initiative focused on public health, has voiced its support of the technique. U.S. fast-food chain Sonic even added a blended burger to its menu, calling it a healthy option that tastes "like you're getting away with something."

FLM Harvest/Blenditarian
Show off your culinary prowess with Izard's blended burger, topped with asparagus tapenade and rhubarb mostarda.

How Does It Taste?

Mushrooms are naturally lower in sodium, fat and calories than red meat, but that doesn't mean they don't pack in flavour.

James Beard Award winner and Iron Chef Stephanie Izard is partnering with the James Beard Foundation to lead the 2018 Blended Burger Project, a competition challenging chefs to use The Blend to create sustainable, healthy burgers that taste good.

Izard's burger blends minced beef with shiitake mushrooms and comes topped with asparagus tapenade and rhubarb mostarda. It's not hard to believe her when she says she likes it better than a regular burger.

"The shiitake mushrooms add another layer of earthiness, richness and just really bring your burger to a whole other level," she told the James Beard Foundation.

Make The Blend Yourself

If you're cooking a dish with loose mince, toss a handful of mushrooms into your grocery trolley. While you prep dinner, mince and add them to your skillet of browning meat. (Sautéeing the mushrooms on high heat with olive oil and spices for five minutes beforehand will add even more flavour.) Chopping will go faster if you have a food processor, but it isn't required.

Each mushroom variety adds a unique flavour, so experiment to find your favourite. Button, shiitake and crimini are great starts.

To cook a blended burger, combine cooked or raw chopped mushrooms with mince and form them into patties before adding them to a grill or skillet. Then cook your burgers as usual. Mushrooms are packed with moisture, making for a juicier, tastier burger.

Once you try it, become a "blenditarian" by pledging your devotion to the technique. So far, more than 2,400 individuals, restaurants, schools and retailers have committed.