Filed Under: Food & Beverage

5 Chemicals Lurking in Plant-Based Meats

Veggie burgers don’t grow in the ground. They’re made in factories

When something sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t. In recent years, more consumers are trying meat substitutes made with plants. But they’re not made only with plants. Fake meat can have over 50 chemical ingredients—something you wouldn’t realize if you’re ordering at a restaurant.

Video: The Real Story Behind Fake Meat.
Video: What You and Your Family Need to Know About Fake Meat

Consumer interest in fake meat has been piqued thanks to new manufacturing techniques that give plant-based “burgers” a taste more closely resembling real meat.

But how do corporations make plants taste and have mouthfeel resembling real beef? Chemical additives. After all, veggie burgers don’t grow in the ground. They’re made in factories.

Here are some things you might not know are in that veggie burger:

  1. Tertiary butylhydroquinone. TBHQ is a synthetic preservative that prevents discoloration in processed foods. The FDA limits the amount of TBHQ allowed in foods because studies of laboratory animals has found an association with TBHQ and cancer.
  2. Magnesium carbonate. Remember when some bread was accused of having a yoga mat chemical? Well, magnesium carbonate, used in foods to retain color, is also used in flooring, fireproofing, and fire-extinguishing compounds.
  3. Erythosine (Red #3). Red #3 is an artificial food coloring. The FDA banned the use of Red #3 in products such as cosmetics in 1990 after high doses of the substance were linked to cancer. But it can still be used in foods like fake meat.
  4. Propylene glycol. Propylene glycol is an odorless, colorless liquid used as a moisturizer. It’s also used as a liquid in e-cigarettes and is the primary ingredient in antifreeze.
  5. Ferric orthophosphate. Also called iron phosphate, this chemical is used to fortify foods. It can also be used as a pesticide to kill slugs and snails. While generally considered safe (for people) in food in small quantities, it can be a skin and eye irritant and may cause an upset stomach.
Beyond Meat’s CEO says in interviews that they “just take the amino acids and the fats from another source and recreate those.” Really? Beyond Meat products also include things like dipotassium phosphate, potassium chloride, titanium dioxide, and maltodextrin.

Are the chemicals in fake meat harmful? Probably not. But many people want to avoid them anyway. So if fake meat companies or their marketing surrogates tell you fake meat is natural and healthy for you and your family—make up your own mind about whether that’s true.

This print advertisement is just one of our efforts to educate the public about the content of fake meat. Most people do not realize how processed fake meat is and what kinds of chemical additives are used to create it.

Other efforts include digital advertising and email outreach.  We need your help to spread the word about the true nature of “plant-based” meats, so please share this article with your friends, family and colleagues.

Find out more about the consumer push to avoid processed fake meat products at

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