Barely recovered from the depredations made on our wallets and appetites by last year’s burger frenzy, we are once again on the precipice of the Wellington on a Plate “Burger Wellington” event. With more participating restaurants, more burgers, and a wider range of ingredients and flavours than ever before, we risk being overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information. To digest this tasty deluge, we need some way to get to grips with it — we need firm buns of solid analysis, above and below, to surround and support the meat of information. We need burger data!
As the chart above shows, this is a bumper year for burgers. Linear year-on-year increases show no signs of slowing. But the real questions for me are about what’s inside those burgers. What are the trends? And as always with burgers, we start with the patty. What’s filling those buns?
Beef continues its ascendance to patty supremacy, representing the main protein in close to 40% of this year’s burgers, and increasing on last year. This increase comes at the expense of nearly every other protein type. Chicken, which last year appeared to be making a play for the spotlight, this year dropped back to around 15% of burgers. Lamb continued its descent into obscurity, barely topping 5%.
But while the patty may be the bright star of the burger world, there’s also its more staid counterpart, its constant companion, the bun. The bun continues its rise in prominence, with more restaurants than ever making sure to specify the exact qualities of the bready vessel supporting their offering.
Close to 90% of burger descriptions now specify the kind of bun, compared to only 70% back in 2014. But what are those buns made of?
That sweet Prince of the burger world, the Brioche bun, makes a comeback this year, after threatening to fade away in 2018. The soft milk bun, still the most popular bun type, dropped back. The surprise this year was the sudden surge in potato buns. Relatively obscure since 2014, this year they leaped into third place, at around 7% of burgers. Is this a one-off fluke, or come 2020 will we see the humble potato threaten the milk bun’s crown?
A trend this chart misses is 2019’s obsession with black buns. From zero in 2017, we have close to 5% of this year’s buns blackened with either charcoal, smoke, or squid ink.
But a burger is not built on patty and bun alone! It is the tasty condiments, the salads, the pickles, and the dash of creativity that really make a burger shine. What else is slipping between the buns this year?
In the Great Battle of the Emulsions, plain mayo cements its victory over the garlicky interloper, aioli, which in 2016 and 2017 threatened to claim the coveted title of Chief Burger Lubricant.
A complex battle is waged by the lesser sauces. Kimchi remains a strong contender, while chutney and salsa lose out to the more traditional mustard.
Finally, what are the other flavours that define 2019 in burgers? It the explosion of new entrants driving a host of creative new entries, or are we awash in a sea of average burgers? I looked at the ingredients used in this year’s burgers, and tried to count how “unique” they were by looking at how many other burgers had used the same ingredient. If the burger was one of a hundred other burgers using the ingredient, the score would be 1/100 points, but if this burger was the only burger to use it, it would score a full point. The average score across all its ingredients give the burger’s final score.
By this metric, 2019’s most “unique” burgers include Upper Hutt based Craft Beer & Pizza’s “Scrumdiddlyumptious” burger, which boasts:
Chocolate ice cream with banana, strawberries, popping candy, cream, caramel sauce in a sweet brioche bun, with chocolate churro fries.
And Rogue & Vagabond’s “Black Hole Sun”, which is described as including:
Flame-grilled beef patty with black cheese, black mustard, black chutney, black pickles and black onions on a black Pandoro bun, with black seasoned fries, black sauce and a blackened jalapeño.
Using this uniqueness measure, we see that uniqueness has rebounded in 2019, from a nadir in 2017.
Is this the start of a renaissance in unusual burgers? I’ll be looking out for it!
Using a similar technique, I could identify the most “on trend” ingredients for 2019 — those burger components that were seen more in 2019 than in any previous year. Using those, I attempted to construct the most “2019” burger of all. Help yourself to a:
Slow-cooked Wagyu beef slider, with asian slaw and mozzarella cheese, in a squid ink potato bun. Served with waffle fries and barbeque sauce.
I hope you enjoyed this burger data analysis! You might also enjoy my series on Artificial Intelligence. Feel free to reach out on twitter: @simoncarryer