According to new research, combining lentils and beef is a winning combination for building a better burger. The new study, funded by Lentils.org and Pulse Canada, found that substituting one-third of a lean beef patty with cooked lentils results in a blended burger that is more sustainable, nutritious and cost-effective.
The study’s life cycle assessment (LCA) evaluated the environmental impact of a combination lentil-beef burger, reformulating a lean beef patty with 33% cooked lentil puree. The blended burger reduces the carbon footprint, water footprint and land-use footprint by about 33%. The research also found that the blended burger had an added 3 grams of fiber, 12% fewer calories, 32% less saturated and total fats and 32% less cholesterol per 4 ounce serving. Opting for this blend also lowers the price by reducing production costs by 26%.
“With an estimated one-third of Americans identifying as ‘flexitarian,’ people are looking for ways to incorporate more plant protein into their diets while still enjoying animal products,” says Amber Johnson, director of marketing and communications at Lentils.org. “A lentil blend offers consumers a chance to align preferences with aspirations.”
As a source of plant protein, lentils are unique because they are carbon negative. This means they actually remove more greenhouse gases from the atmosphere than they emit during their production. Numerous studies have shown that adding more plant-based foods such as lentils to daily diets not only help to improve health and nutrition but also have significant environmental impacts.
“Reformulating foods can not only lower costs while enhancing nutrition, it can make a significant impact on the environment” says Denis Trémorin, PAg, MSc, director of sustainability at Pulse Canada. “A 33% reduction in key environmental measures goes a long way toward meeting sustainability goals.”
The study used environmental impact data for U.S. beef based on national averages, whereas data for lentils was specific to a farming region in Canada. “We know that greenhouse gas emissions, water and land use vary dramatically depending on production regions and practices, making it very important to have ingredient data that is ecosystem specific,” says Tremorin. “Ensuring common measurements and accuracy of data will be key as we see more communication and marketing around the environmental impacts of food.”
“We’re seeing a rise in interest in meat products enhanced with plant protein,” says Johnson. “On the manufacturing side, this study is just one example of how formulation changes can have a massive effect on food products. Blends like the lentil-beef burger can provide manufacturers with an opportunity to develop a whole host of blended food products, such as meatballs, meatloaf, pasta sauce and more.”