Why Every Burger Should Be A Blended Burger

Does a better burger exist?

That's the question The Blended Burger Project , a joint enterprise of the James Beard Foundation and The Mushroom Council invites burger lovers around the country to consider. Each year, chefs, restaurants, schools, and universities around the country participate in a competition to create the country's best blended burger.

The rules are simple: in addition to a protein, the blend must contain at least 25%  fresh, chopped cultivated mushrooms. Consumers can vote on their favorites at the James Beard Foundation's website. Out of the top 20 entries with the most votes, five winners will be chosen by a panel of experts.  The contest has generated involvement from some of the country's most prominent chefs, including James Beard Award winner Stephanie Izard, whose own blended burger recipe can be found here

A full list of participating restaurants can be found at the James Beard Foundation's website.

The proof is in the patty

The Blended Burger Project is part of an overall trend toward healthier dining options with sustainability in mind. The challenge is convincing consumers that blended burgers taste as good (or better) than traditional, full-protein burgers.  Luckily, the project has science on its side: a 2014 study from the Culinary Institute of America and University of California-Davis found that not only do mushrooms not detract from the flavor of meat, they enhance it.

The reason? Umami, that mysterious, hard-to-define fifth taste, variously translated from Japanese as "deliciousness" or "savoriness."  It's present in protein—and mushrooms. The combined blend is intensely savory, which reduces the need for salt and other seasonings. According to the study, ground meat recipes made with 50% mushrooms and 50% meat, or even 80% meat and 20% mushrooms, contain fewer calories, fat, and sodium than regular full-protein recipes. 

The benefits of blended burgers extend beyond taste and nutrition. They're also cheaper and more sustainable. According to The Mushroom Council, up to one million pounds of mushrooms can be grown annually on just one acre of land. Mushrooms also require only 1.8 gallons of water per pound—compare that to the 427 gallons of water needed to produce just four ounces of beef, roughly the equivalent of a traditional burger patty. 

Blend your own burger

There are endless ways to start incorporating mushrooms into your favorite ground meat recipes. The Culinary Institute's Basic Mushroom Meat Blend is extremely versatile and can be used as a substitute for your regular ground meat mixture.

Celebrity chef Richard Blais adds 1/2 teaspoon of porcini mushroom powder to his Earth and Turf patties, which imparts concentrated umami flavor while reducing the need for salt. Adding 1-2 tablespoons of porcini powder per pound to your favorite blended burger recipe will also help soak up any excess moisture from the fresh mushrooms. 

To up the umami ante even further, try adding umami dust or porcini powder to ketchup or mayonnaise before spreading them on burgers.