Found: A Versatile & Sustainable Veggie Burger That Pairs With Everything
I want to love veggie burgers—I do! But in my experience, they can be so hit or miss. Making a crave-able patty out of sweet potatoes, black beans, and/or greens is tricky, and the texture of most plant-based burgers never quite does it for me. They're either super mushy or so dry that they need to be drenched in sauce.
But as a sustainability editor trying to avoid red meat, I'll always give a new eco-friendly burger alternative a bite. So when I recently heard that there was a fresh patty on the scene made from sustainably farmed sea kelp, I jumped at the chance to try it. And when I tasted AKUA's Kelp Burger, I forgot all about the lackluster veggie burgers of my past.
My first bite of a kelp burger.
I'd first heard of AKUA when I tried their plant-based jerky line, also made from kelp, back in 2019. The company is on a mission to introduce the protein source, which has long been popular in some Asian countries, to Western audiences.
The company's newest menu item, burgers, combine Saccharina Latissima kelp farmed off the coast of the northeastern U.S. with cremini mushrooms, black beans, quinoa, nutritional yeast, and a handful of other ingredients you'd expect to find in a vegan patty.
I was struck by how, well, normal they looked—like any other burger I'd buy in the store—when they arrived at my apartment a few weeks ago. I placed them in my freezer until lunchtime, when I let them thaw for a minute as I heated up some olive oil in a skillet. After a few minutes sizzling each side, I was pleased to see that they had developed that promising dark, crispy edge.
I popped my patty on top of my lunch salad and was surprised by the first bite. For starters, it didn't taste fishy at all—though it did have a saltiness that was vaguely reminiscent of the ocean. The mushrooms provide a quick hit of umami, while the beans rounded things out. Overall, I found the flavor to be mild but pleasant. It was the texture that really got me: They totally delivered that satisfying outer crust of a burger without drying out on the inside.
Since that first taste, I've been enjoying them on salads but can also see them being great on a bun paired with pickles and the condiment of your choice. Since the flavor is so neutral, they're versatile enough to compliment—not overpower—any number of dishes. And at 12 grams of protein per patty, they're filling to boot.
How kelp can be a climate solution.
Beyond their pleasant taste and texture, what really sold me about these burgers is their potential to fuel a climate solution. Kelp and other species of seaweed are no-input crops that, unlike meat and veggies, don't take any land, fertilizer, or freshwater to grow. They're fed by sunlight and nutrients from the sea, and an ocean farmer's job is simply to wait for them to grow. As they do, they help capture carbon1 from the atmosphere, protect coastlines2 from storm damage, and filter out pollutants like excess phosphorus and nitrogen from the water.
As the global population rises and the amount of arable land dips, heading out to sea to harvest more of our food only makes sense. That's why some are calling on kelp as a future food—a healthy one that's rich in vitamins and prebiotic fiber, too.
As more people buy into kelp and other sea vegetables, the hope is that we can build the infrastructure needed to distribute them on a wider and more affordable scale. If that sounds like a future you'd like to take a bite of, you can find AKUA's burgers in select markets and restaurant partners nationwide or order them directly from their website. (Use code MBGLOVESAKUA for 20% off.)
The bottom line.
At long last, I'm glad to have finally found a veggie burger that I actually enjoy working into lunches, prepping as a quick dinner, and charring on the grill—and one that won't burn up the planet at that.
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Emma Loewe is the Sustainability Health Director at mindbodygreen and the author of Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us. She is also the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self Care, which she wrote alongside Lindsay Kellner.
Emma received her B.A. in Environmental Science & Policy with a specialty in environmental communications from Duke University. In addition to penning over 1,000 articles on mbg, her work has appeared on Bloomberg News, Marie Claire, Bustle, and Forbes. She has covered everything from the water crisis in California to the rise of urban beekeeping to a group of doctors prescribing binaural beats for anxiety. She's spoken about the intersection of self-care and sustainability on podcasts and live events alongside environmental thought leaders like Marci Zaroff, Gay Browne, and Summer Rayne Oakes.