The evolution of the burger

Ten years ago, “burger” was a bit of a dirty word. A grubby indulgence you got at a fast-food chain as a treat. The junk food staple had garnered a pretty bad reputation thanks to the release of Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser and the 2004 documentary, Supersize Me. But the burger has evolved…

In 2020, the UK branded burger market is expected to be worth £4bn, outperforming the wider restaurant market. And although some chain restaurants have been struggling, the burger is definitely still king, so why has Britain become burger-obsessed?

Let’s face it, the classic combination of bread, meat and melting cheese is always a winner. But in recent years we’ve gone pretty posh, with high quality ingredients and fancy flavour combinations. The mouth-wateringly meaty patties we see today are a far cry from the grey discs of mystery meat that once adorned every pub’s menu.

Burger renaissance

There are a few reasons why the burger is so popular. In a world where convenience (and cost) is important, the burger is an affordable dining option. And, in the image-obsessed social media era, a tasty tower of meat, cheese and the ubiquitous brioche bun is sure to see the likes rolling in.

It is also a versatile offering that provides a great basis for experimentation. The burger is the ideal “vehicle”, introducing new and unusual flavours to the public. With an increasing demand for meat-free options, a vegetable-based burger is also a safe bet. A range of premium topping options can ensure vegetarians and vegans feel well-catered for and allows them to tap into the trend.

There’s also the option to make your burger “skinny” by ditching the carbs in favour of some extra salad. And when the actual burger is made from high-quality, and tasty ingredients, this doesn’t have to feel like a compromise.

What’s next?

As the number of people choosing to reduce their meat consumption continues to rise, we’ll see more experimental and unusual vegetarian patty options on menus. It’s also likely that sophisticated meat substitutes will become more prevalent. The Impossible burger, the vegan burger that “bleeds”, is set to become a standard menu item on menus worldwide after receiving $114m investment earlier this year to expand in the US and internationally.

And it’s not just in the out of home market that the burger is booming. Supermarkets are constantly expanding and improving their pre-made patties, with retail giant Marks and Spencer releasing their “poshest ever burger” – made with specially selected cuts of beef and a hint of bone marrow. Toppings are evolving too, expect to see non-traditional sauces packed with flavour like chimichurri, harissa and romesco on a burger near you in the not-so-distant future.

Is this the final chapter for the cheeseburger?

Although the gourmet burger continues to evolve, the traditional cheeseburger doesn’t need to be left behind. In fact, Macphie – the UK-based independent food ingredients manufacturer – is set to release a new range of branded burger melts, to take the humble cheeseburger to the next level.

First up, calling upon the flavours of possibly one of the most iconic burgers of all time, is the Ultimate Burger Melt. Made with gherkins, mustard and dill, this is the quintessential ‘burger’ flavour profile we all know and love. For those that like things a little spicy, the Jack and Jalapeño Melt with Monterey Jack cheese and jalapeños is a tasty tex-mex inspired choice, while the Blue Cheese Melt adds some serious sophistication to any patty.

Catherine McBeth, category marketing manager at Macphie, said: “The burger is finding a new customer base through the ‘premium’ wave. It is the ultimate customisable item, which has long been a top consumer trend.

“Consumers are more willing to experiment and take risks with toppings and add-ons, which makes the burger melt the ideal choice point to try tempting new flavours ingredients on a low-cost platform. The only cloud on the burger horizon is the increasing trend for reduced meat consumption, but the vegetarian burger rides to the rescue.

“The range of melts is equally inviting whether melting over a beef patty, or a Portobello mushroom or chunky aubergine slices. With the sandwich still being the most-popular option on UK menus, it’s clear that bread is not dead and that the burger will reign supreme for a good while yet. So fire up the grill, get creative with your combinations and get ready, because burgers are only going to get better!”

by Charlotte Leith

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