Mushrooms improve the nutrition profile of burgers and meatballs.
Umami-rich mushrooms when combined with beef, yield a product with an improved nutrition profile and delicious taste. (Photo: To-Jo Mushrooms)

Culinary professionals are exploring the inclusion of finely diced or chopped mushrooms into ground meat matrices to make lower-fat, flavorful burgers and meatballs for the foodservice sector, namely high schools, colleges and health institutions. An opportunity exists to create similar products for fresh and frozen retail departments.

Referred to as “the blend” by The Mushroom Council, chefs are finding that umami-rich mushrooms match the texture of ground meat, and when combined, yield a product with an improved nutrition profile and delicious taste. That’s because the umami in both the meat and mushrooms provides a greater flavor impact than either on its own.

“This concept combines chopped umami-rich mushrooms with ground meat in America’s iconic foods,” said John Cunningham, national account manager, To-Jo Mushrooms, Avondale, Pennsylvania, at the 2017 Annual Meat Conference in Dallas on Feb. 19-21. “Mushrooms blend seamlessly and match the texture of ground beef, pork, chicken or turkey. It’s a perfect way to improve on the familiar in recipes such as burgers, tacos, meatloaf or meatballs.”

A sensory study conducted by The Culinary Institute of America and Univ. of California, Davis, and published in September 2014 in the Journal of Food Science (79: S1795-S1804) showed that most consumers prefer the flavor, texture, spice level and salt level of the blend over 100-percent beef.

The study, “Flavor-enhancing properties of mushrooms in meat-based dishes in which sodium has been reduced and meat has been partially substituted with mushrooms,” included eight chef-developed recipes. Researchers investigated the effects of beef substitution with crimini or white mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus) on the flavor profiles of carne asada and beef taco blends. The prototypes were evaluated with a descriptive analysis panel. Sensory mitigation of sodium reduction through the incorporation of mushrooms was also investigated in the taco blends.


 To-Jo’s chopped mushrooms come packed in brine and are shipped in 20-lb. pails or 80-oz. pouches for industrial applications.
Research showd that adding 50-or 80-percent ground mushroom to a beef taco blend enhanced its overall flavor. (Photo: To-Jo Mushrooms)

Results showed that substitution of beef with mushrooms in the carne asada did not alter the overall flavor strength of the dish, but the incorporation of 50- or 80-percent ground mushroom in the beef taco blend did enhance its overall flavor as well as mushroom, veggie, onion, garlic and earthy flavors, and umami and sweet tastes. Overall flavor intensity of the 25-percent reduced-salt version of the 80-percent mushroom taco blend matched that of the full-salt versions of the 50- and 100-percent beef formulations, thus indicating that the substitution of 80 percent of the meat with mushrooms did mitigate the 25-percent sodium reduction in terms of the overall flavor impact of the dish, even if it did not quite compensate for the reduction in salty taste. 

“This sensory study showed that in some meat-based dishes, meat can be substituted with mushrooms without compromising the flavor of the dishes while also improving the nutritional quality by reducing the amount of sodium, calories, saturated fat and cholesterol,” Cunningham said. “Such products appeal to meat-eating consumers who want to reduce their meat intake but not completely give it up.” 

At the Annual Meat Conference new product exhibition, To-Jo sampled blended beef sliders and turkey meatballs made with the recommended 70-30 blend of meat to mushrooms. For industrial applications, To-Jo’s chopped mushrooms are available packed in brine and are shipped in 20-lb. pails or 80-oz. pouches. For foodservice operators or butcher counters, smaller pack sizes are available.