10-Minute Vegetarian: Is My Veggie Burger Safe?

Posted Sun, 04/25/2010 - 7:53am by Denise Reynolds

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A recent report has the world talking about the safety of eating veggie burgers because of possible contamination among several popular brands that may contain hexane, a harsh pollutant that is listed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as “hazardous”.

The Cornucopia Institute has found that hexane, a by-product of gasoline refining, is used in non-organic soy production to separate the oil from the protein and fiber of grains. Residues of the chemical, ten times higher than what is considered normal, were commonly found in foods with soy ingredients in test results released by the organization.

The study, called “Behind the Bean” reveals that the use of hexane and its effects on consumers “have not yet been thoroughly studied and are not regulated by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).” The chemical is a known neurotoxin (workers who have been exposed have developed both skin and nervous system disorders) and is also considered an air pollutant (in 2007, grain processors were responsible for two-thirds of the national hexane emissions). Because there is no requirement yet to test for hexane residue, it is unclear how often it shows up in many consumer food products.

So, can you avoid hexane by buying only organic veggie burgers? That one is complicated. Manufacturers can legally use the label “made with organic ingredients,” which does not specify exactly which ingredient is organic. In fact, many of the veggie burgers tested by the Institute had the word “organic” somewhere on the label. When buying soy-based veggie burgers, look for the term “certified organic soy,” which bars the use of hexane in soy production or find the USDA Organic symbol on the package.

Here is the list of the products found by the Cornucopia Institute, and whether or not they contained hexane extracted soy ingredients:

Products with no hexane-extracted soy ingredients

Boca Burgers "Made with organic soy"
Helen's Kitchen
Morningstar "Made with organic"
Superburgers by Turtle Island
Tofurky
Wildwood

Products with hexane-extracted soy ingredients

Amy's Kitchen
Boca Burger, conventional
Franklin Farms
Garden Burger
It's All Good
Lightlife
Morningstar Farms
President's Choice
Soy Boy
Taste Above
Trader Joe's
Yves Veggie Cuisine

What if your favorite brand isn’t listed? Cornucopia Institute senior researcher Charlotte Vallaeys says, "If a non-organic product contains a soy protein isolate, soy protein concentrate, or texturized vegetable protein, you can be pretty sure it was made using soy beans that were made with hexane." As for other products made with soy, tempeh and regular tofu are not typically made with hexane, because the products are made with whole soy beans, and not the extracted oils. However, low-fat or fat-free tofu is often made with hexane-extracted soy.

Want to avoid the issue entirely? Make your own home-made veggie burger. Here are a few that I have chosen based on their simplicity, but feel free to search for more on your own. Not only are they good for you, but you have the comfort of knowing exactly where each of the ingredients come from.

This is a part of my ongoing series, 10 Minute Vegetarian. I’m busy, you’re busy. We want to be healthy, but we don’t have a lot of time. In the 10 minutes it takes you to read this article, you can learn something about the health benefits of the vegetarian diet and how to implement it in your own hectic schedule.

This post was included in All Things Eco Blog Carnival #99.

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