A very long time ago, when I was transitioning into vegetarianism, a dear friend of mine came to visit. She is a master chef and artist and one of the first people to show me that gluten free food can not only be delicious, but beautiful as well. I remember that one day we happened to be at some health food store or another and she mentioned wanting a veggie burger. I made a sad face, and complained that “All the veggie burgers are made from wheat gluten.” She looked surprised, and said that she was fairly certain her favorite veggie burger was gluten free and said so right on the box. I was shocked to find out she was right. At that time, Boca Burger was gluten free and came in a variety of tasty flavors, both vegan and non vegan. I became an instant convert to the veggie burger- and left meat based burgers behind without a second thought. This burger had all the essence of a “burger” that I liked, and none of the meat. Yay! But imagine my dismay when a few years later that little company was bought out by a big bad corporation- in itself, not a problem, but when that big bad corporation immediately changed the recipe of my beloved boca burgers and based every single variety on wheat gluten aka “Seitan” (I think Celiac Chicks sum it up the most succinctly), I had what might be called a conniption fit. I wrote a number of cranky emails, to which I got a smooth, slippery, and absolutely indifferent response from their PR. Insert years of grumbling, complaining, and bitter remarks about vegetarian burgers here, please. To date, Boca still hasn’t bothered to create a single gluten free burger. Luckily, other companies were willing to step up and provide gluten free consumers with fabulous gluten free burgers that may even surpass the original Boca Burger. If you’ve never had a vegetarian burger, I highly recommend that you try one. They’re delicious, generally healthier than their meaty counterpart, and are a great way to get more healthful ingredients like soy, vegetables, and brown rice in the diet. (Depending on the variety.) There are even veggie burgers available for those with multiple allergies to things like soy and dairy. Here’s a run down of our fabulous options:
The first gluten free veggie burger I found after my tragic loss of the B.B. was probably Sunshine Burgers. They are the healthiest and probably the most allergen friendly of the gluten free veggie burger options, although they do contain sunflower seeds. They’ve recently greatly expanded their varieties, and I have to say, they’ve never tasted better. Even if you’re soy intolerant, you can enjoy their vegan burgers in Original, Garden and Herb, Barbecue, and the Southwest varieties. These burgers are based on sunflower seeds and brown rice, which to my rather picky palate has a slightly mushy texture that can’t quite compete with a soy based burger for “mouth feel”. I also felt that their original flavors were somewhat bland, and were somewhat difficult to heat without burning. (Probably my fault rather than the burger’s fault, so take this with a grain of salt.) However, I have to say that Sunshine Burgers achieved glorious, glorious success with their recent flavors, especially the barbecue variety. (I haven’t found Southwest in my local stores yet, darn it.) The addition of pinto beans, smoke flavoring and generous spices makes it my new favorite, gluten free veggie burger, even though I still prefer the texture of a soy burger. It was darned good, and I was licking my fingers big time when I bit into a rich, “meaty” burger on a gluten free bagel, dripping with condiments. Mmmmm mmmm good. Sunshine Burgers can be found in the freezer case of your local Health Food store, but I have not found them in chain grocery stores. My entirely subjective rating? The original, 6/10, Barbecue 8/10
*GARDEN BURGER NO LONGER AN OPTION- see end note 10-08* GardenBurger thrilled me by being one of the first mainstream veggie burger companies to come out with several gluten free, vegan burgers. They even boldly mark the side of the box “Gluten Free.” According to their web site as of 7-20-07, their Black Bean Chipotle and Flame Grilled burgers, as well as their (Low calorie!) Veggie Breakfast Sausages are gluten free. Please read labels carefully and look for the gluten free stamp on the box, as ingredients can change. Personally, I love their Flame Grilled Burger, as it is the most evocative of the gluten free Boca Burgers of yore. Excellent grilled burger flavor- and probably the best texture, in my opinion, of any GF veggie burger on the market. They are made from soy, so not suitable for those with soy allergies, but are a great option if you are dairy, egg, and gluten free intolerant. You may be able to find at least one of two of the gluten free varieties in the freezer case of your chain grocery store, but a well stocked local health food store will probably carry a larger selection, including the veggie breakfast sausage. My entirely subjective rating? Black Bean Chipotle 7/10, Flame Grilled 9/10, and Veggie sausage 6.5/10. UPDATE 5-08: Gardenburger has changed the formula of their Flame Grilled Burger, so it is no longer gluten-free. At that time their other burgers (Black Bean Chipotle and the Veggie Sausage) were still be gluten-free. Here’s my Post about the change.
Update 10-08: Gardenburger no longer has any veggie burgers (or veggie sausage) that is gluten-free. Thanks for nothing, Kellogs. You’re now on my hate list. Chat with Boca Burger folks while you’re there. (Thanks to reader for this update!!!)
Wildwood offers a very different vegetable burger that is made from soy that has been processed into a kind of Japanese/Korean tofu burger. We encountered these kind of burgers in Japan, and enjoyed them, but they are a little different from traditional veggie burgers. Apparently in 2005 a Korean natural foods company, Pulmuone, merged with a California local company, Wildwood, famous since 1978 for their brown rice and tofu sandwiches. You can see these dual influences in their attempt to establish themselves in mainstream and ethnic fresh and natural food markets. I’m most interested in their veggie burgers that are available in original, shitake, and southwest flavors that appear to be gluten free. They’re a nice, reasonably healthy burger that will appeal to anyone who likes a tofu style burger. I’d give their original flavor a 7/10, with the caveat that strictly speaking, it’s more like a tofu steak than a burger. Good thing I like tofu steaks! These burgers will probably not be available in regular grocery stores, but may be available in select health food or specialty stores in the refrigerator section.
Although they were a bit late on the scene, I am thrilled that Amy’s Kitchen finally came out with a frozen, gluten free veggie burger with their new Bistro Burger. They are a much beloved company for many members of the gluten free community for offering delicious, relatively healthy gluten free and vegetarian frozen meals and soups along with their mainstream line of products. I actually emailed them several times asking them to introduce a gluten free burger to their product line, so I felt a little thrill when I heard that they had finally released the Bistro Burger. I’ve tried them, and think they’re quite tasty. The Bistro Burger includes brown rice, mushrooms, tofu, and beans- hoping no doubt to utilize the best characteristics of each ingredient to create the perfect fusion burger. I liked them, and think they have improved on the texture of the Sunshine burger, but they also tend towards a mushy, bean or rice texture that I don’t like as much as the burgers relying more heavily on a soy base. Unfortunately, including tofu also makes them unsuitable for those with soy allergies. Nevertheless, I’m very happy that they’ve answered the plea from their gluten free customers and have to give them a solid 7/10 for being a satisfying, hearty burger. The main photo for this post was taken of an Amy’s bistro burger on a rosemary bun from Davis’ Farmer’s Kitchen Cafe. Because this is a new product, I haven’t seen them in mainstream grocery stores. Large health food stores or stores that give Amy’s some serious freezer space should be getting some in stock any day now.
Franklin Farms gluten free veggie burger are often favorably reviewed on gluten free veggie forums. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to try these burgers as they don’t seem to be available in the Bay area, but I have heard that the portabella burger is delish, and I’m sure that the Original and Chili-bean varieties are also tasty. I have heard reports that they are gluten free, but have not confirmed with the company, so please read the label carefully and contact the company if in doubt.
On the tofu front, while obviously they are not, strictly speaking, burgers- Tofu Pups are gluten free. They don’t have a lot of flavor on their own, but slathered in enough condiments anything can be edible. As a college student following the KISS philosophy, I often would slice them in half, put them in a corn tortilla with cheese and nuke them for 30 seconds or less- until the cheese melted. They weren’t half bad that way, although it doesn’t sound all that appealing to me now. They also don’t grill very well, IMO, as the rubbery “shell” doesn’t absorb much flavor and tends to stick rather badly to the grill surface. I’d give them a 5/10, but I’m glad they exist as at least one option for a gluten free veggie dog. Happily, these tofu pups are available in the refrigerator section of many mainstream grocery stores as well as health food stores.
On my quest to find gluten free veggie burgers, I also heard good things about a Canadian company called Sol Cuisine that has some gluten free veggie burgers and gluten free veggie ground “beef.” Their products are available nationwide in Canada and on the West coast and the Midwest in limited supply. If you can find them, they have Original, Vegetable Burger Aux Legumes, Spicy Bean, and Falafel Burger varieties. I haven’t tried the burgers, although I think I did have the ground “beef” long, long ago.
So, to make a long story short, all of the burgers listed, to the best of my knowledge, are gluten free vegetarian burgers. And you thought it was tough being a gluten free vegetarian! Be heartened- and do your own taste test. What is your favorite gluten free veggie burger, and why? Please comment!
If you would rather make your own burger, try recipes from one of these books:
Meatless Burgers: Over 50 Quick & Easy Recipes for America’s Favorite Food.
Not all of the recipes will be gluten free, but many of them should be adaptable.
It’s burger season- get ready, get set- get grilling some gluten free veggie burgers!