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Plants poor substitute for real beef

Plants poor substitute for real beef

Consumers overwhelmingly chose ground beef instead of plant-based-beef alternatives in a multifaceted study being reported by Kansas State University researchers.

Ground beef – offered with 10 percent, 20 percent and 30 percent fat – was strongly preferred for taste and flavor as compared to plant-based alternatives. Less than one-third of the respondents said they would buy the plant-based alternatives in store or retail settings.

The results are pretty stark. Our three ground-beef products were extremely desired by consumers. We didn’t witness many differences among the three fat levels we offered. But when we compared those to the ground-beef alternatives, every one of the alternatives had a tendency to fall out of favorability with consumers.

Consumers rated the plant-based alternatives as “extremely dry” and them “very low” for flavor. In one test only 18 percent of the consumers said they would be willing to buy the plant-based ground-beef alternative.

Researchers tested ground-beef alternatives designed for retail and food-service use, and another consisting of a traditional soy-protein base. The market for plant-based alternatives to all forms of beef has grown in grocery stores and some restaurants during the past six years. But not many of those products are tested or evaluated on how they really compare to ground beef.

There’s a need to assess those products and determine whether the claims that they can substitute for beef or pork or sausage are legitimate. We need to ensure we fact-check those claims to have a good idea of what the science says as it relates to how those products compare to the products they are trying to substitute for.

The Kansas State University study seems to indicate that they are not comparable, but rather separate food items. Ground-beef alternatives are very different than ground beef. There’s nothing we can measure that puts it on the same level playing field with ground beef – not how they’re cooked, look or taste.

Additional findings were reported in the study.

  • Plant-based ground-beef alternatives are more tender than regular ground beef. But with ground products that’s not necessarily a good thing. The tenderness made the products softer and less likely to hold together. Ground beef’s ability to stick together provides a texture that was more preferred by consumers.
  • Ground-beef patties tend to shrink when cooked, but the plant-based alternatives stayed the same size – and in some cases even grew somewhat bigger.

The team’s work was funded by the Kansas Beef Council. Visit for the full report.

Travis O’Quinn is a meat scientist and associate professor with the Kansas State University-Department of Animal Sciences and Industry. Visit for more information.

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