Why Wendy’s Vegan Black Bean Burger Isn’t Masquerading as Meat

The veggie burger being tested at several Ohio locations generates impressive initial fanfare.

(Photo: Food Network/YouTube)

May 7, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Josh Scherer has written for Epicurious, Thrillist, and Los Angeles magazine. He is constantly covered in corn chip crumbs.

Plant-based food is like Hansel in Zoolander: so hot right now.

Perhaps spurred on by the success of Chipotle’s sofritas—the braised organic tofu that’s taken the quick-serve burrito world by storm—Wendy’s has officially thrown its hat into the vegan food arena.

Its black bean burger, which is being tested at select locations in Ohio, boasts ranch sauce (not to be confused with ranch dressing, which is a separate menu item), colby–pepper jack cheese, mixed greens, and tomato on a multigrain seeded bun. Though the cheese and ranch sauce, which also contains cheese, are not vegan, the patty is cooked in a separate oven, far away from any animal product, to ensure total vegan-ness. The sandwich costs $4.59, and, according to several reports from Ohio, it’s damn tasty.

Columbus Underground said the black bean burger is “pleasant and savory” and went so far as to call it “shockingly...beautiful.” Demand was so high the crew was running to keep up with the orders, according to Columbus Underground. Unless the Asiago ranch (don’t call it dressing) sauce is just that good, it seems—at least preliminarily—that Wendy’s has cracked the fast-food meatless burger puzzle.

But why did it take so long? Several other fast-food chains have tried adding meat substitutes to their menus—and for the most part they’ve fallen flat.

Some think Wendy’s is trying to capitalize on a rising trend of veganism and vegetarianism. But recent data shows that, all told, just 2 percent of Americans subscribe to those diets, which isn’t nearly large enough of a market to significantly tip the profit scales.

Rather, Wendy’s appears to have set itself apart from all the other fast-food chains by trying to capture health- and environmentally conscious diners, who don’t necessarily want to eat a beef-imitating burger and save the world; they just—and this sounds crazy—enjoy eating vegetables.

The new sandwich is marketed as a “black bean burger” as opposed to the ubiquitous “veggie burger,” which previously dominated fast food’s meatless attempts. In the early 2000s, McDonald’s tested a McVeggie burger in select Southern California locations; it was made of soy protein, hydrogenated soybean oil, and wheat gluten. Burger King’s Morningstar Veggie Burger opts for textured soy protein and egg whites.

Because the black bean burger is a new promotional item, the full ingredient list is not yet available. But according to Columbus Underground, “The patty isn’t trying to do a meat impersonation: it’s starchy and beany.” Wendy’s did not respond to TakePart’s inquiry regarding the specific ingredients.

There’s no telling whether the black bean burger will make the permanent menu. But judging by the initial fanfare surrounding the limited release, you should start getting your taste buds ready for legume-and-Asiago burger goodness.