Veggie Burgers…Made with Organic Chemicals one of those odd moments when what chemists define as “organic” clashes with the rest of the world’s definition, I came across a report of a common organic chemical—hexane—in veggie burgers. The Wisconsin-based Cornucopia Institute just released a report about the use of hexane-extracted soy products in veggie burgers, and several blogs have picked up the story. I can’t decide which headline about the study is more alarmist: Gothamist’s “Popular Veggie Burgers Contain Poisonous Chemicals” or Mother Jones’ “Which Veggie Burgers Were Made With a Neurotoxin?” The Village Voice’s “Enjoying that Veggie Burger? It May Contain Chemical Residues” just made me chuckle. Anyhow, the chief complaint by Cornucopia is that the soy in many products has been washed in a hexane bath to extract fats. Hexane, Cornucopia notes, is bad for the environment and bad for you. Unless you’re eating soy products specifically labeled “organic” chances are you are eating hexane-extracted soy. And that goes for other soy-based foods and ingredients, such as soy baby formula and soy lecithin in chocolate. Cornucopia didn’t actually see if any of those non-organic veggie burgers contained hexanes. They did test hexane-extracted soy oil, soy meal, and soy grits for the chemical and found soy oil contained less than 10 ppm of hexanes, while soy meal and soy grits had 21 pp and 14 ppm of the compound, respectively. Although I’ve returned to the carnivore fold, I spent more than a dozen years as a vegetarian. I also spent five years as an organic chemistry graduate student, and I'd bet that I probably was exposed to more hexanes by running one column than I was through my cumulative consumption of Boca Burgers. But I am curious, anyone out there willing to test these burgers for hexane content? UPDATE: Mother Jones has posted an update on their item about neurotoxin-laced veggie burgers in which they interview Charlotte Vallaeys, the author of the Cornucopia Institute's report. Although Ms. Vallaeys holds an. M.S. in Agriculture, Food and Environment, I wish MJ had spoken to someone with a heftier chemistry background...and someone who wasn't involved with the study. When asked about the point that Chemjobber makes, Vallaeys responds: "The evaporation argument is often used by the companies that make these products. But what happens to the food when you cook it with this neurotoxic compound? Does it react with other substances and create new compounds before it evaporates? That really has not been studied." Vallaeys argues the bigger picture is that any product made with hexanes contributes to air pollution, but she seems to be a little confused about just what hexane is doing the atmosphere. In the report, she writes, "In the air, hexane reacts with other pollutants such as oxides of nitrogen to form ozone."

Author: Bethany Halford

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  1. If testing involves eating Boca burgers then NO. I’m not sure how they got the formula so wrong, but I think it’s the trying-to-make-it-taste-like-meat-with-ingredients-that-will-never-taste-like-meat that brings the whole thing crashing down.

    On the other hand, I’ll happily volunteer to test ice cream for hexane.

  2. The list of “safe/unsafe” burgers in the VV blog post is awesome. Chemophobia is a wonderful thing.

    So it’d be interesting to cook the burgers and then test them for hexanes as well. The boiling point’s pretty low, so I’m guessing that they tend to go away…

    This would actually make a pretty interesting undergraduate project. Inject non-meat and meat items with hexanes, cook/fry/grill(?) them and then GC the extracts to try to detect levels of hexanes.

    Evening primrose oil is one of these folk remedies for inducing labor. Our family gave it a shot in one of these “why not?” sorts of things. I was terribly amused when the clerk told us to get the hexane-free oil. Apparently, it’s not that there are hexane extractions, it’s that the presses can be cleaned with hexane. The horrors!

  3. Boca burgers? Blech. IMO they are far inferior to Morningstar Farms garden veggie patties. I doubt hexanes contribute to Boca’s overall crappy taste.

  4. Thanks for keeping up on this, Bethany.

    The neurotoxin thing is really quite frustrating; that’s quite a specific word, and it’s gets thrown around by folks to mean “something that I think that’s bad for you.” I think I’m going to do a post on this.

    As for the ozone, I think she’s poorly referring to the effect that some VOCs cause smog. Whether hexane (or hexanes) causes smog, of course, is entirely another debate.


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