The Invention of the Veggie Burger
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Sams and his brother Craig ran the vegetarian restaurant SEED in London. The brothers were inspired by Japanese cuisine—their menu featured ingredients like sesame, seaweed, and miso—and it was a hippie mecca. John Lennon and Yoko Ono were regulars; they loved the carrot nituke dish.
Buoyed by the success of SEED, the brothers founded a health food company to sell vegetarian food commercially. But even with the aura of Yoko Ono and John Lennon, the company struggled financially. So in 1982, Greg Sams started working on a vegetarian burger in an effort to save the company.
It wasn’t easy for the nearly lifelong vegetarian to mimic the taste of a burger, but after 6 months, he arrived at a recipe that used sesame seeds, rolled oats, wheat protein, soy protein, dried onion, and dried tomato. After considering names that included the ‘no-cow burger’, the ‘earthburger’, and the ‘sesame burger’, he settled on the ‘VegeBurger’. Sams thought this VegeBurger “tasted really good.”
The product was a hit. The first run of VegeBurgers sold out, and in 1988, Sams sold 13 million burgers. The brothers’ carrot nituke, presumably, remained popular among the small minority of London’s psychedelic and hippy scene. Even Yoko Ono’s endorsement couldn’t compete with the appeal of a Vegeburger.