Why These New South African Burger King Menu Items Are Such A Big Deal

Fast food chains across the globe have discovered a rare opportunity: making more money by doing something environmentally responsible. In the United States, Burger King, Dunkin, and KFC all introduced vegan meat alternatives to their menus in 2019 (via Forbes).

Fast food chains are trying to cash in on a wave that's appeared on the internet over the past several years. Twitter mentions of the word "vegan" increased 136% from 2014 to 2019. In South Africa, by one metric at least, interest in veganism appears to be growing even more quickly. VegNews cited a report from Google Trends, which indicates that "searches for vegan topics have doubled" in that country over the same five years.

Owing to veganism's surge in popularity, Burger King South Africa became the first fast food purveyor on the entire African continent to offer meat that's been certified as vegan. New on BK's menu in south Africa are the Plant-based Whopper, a 0% chicken sandwich called the Vegan Royale, and Vegan Nuggets. While Burger King in the U.S. partnered with Impossible Foods to make the meatless Impossible Whopper (via Time), the South African Whopper alternative is different. Burger King South Africa partnered with a European brand called The Vegetarian Butcher to come up with its soy-and-wheat-based patty.

Burger King South Africa's Plant-based Whopper isn't strictly vegan

Burger King South Africa's website has a warning for strict vegans, and even vegetarians, regarding its Plant-based Whopper. The meatless patties are cooked on the same grill as beef patties, so there's bound to be some juicy cross-contamination. Also, the mayonnaise that comes with the Plant-based Whopper is regular mayonnaise, made with eggs and dairy.

The chicken-adjacent Vegan Royale sandwich and Vegan Nuggets check off all your vegan boxes, on the other hand. Both are cooked in dedicated fryers that never see animal products. The Vegan Royale also comes with a special vegan mayonnaise. (If you're at a Burger King in South Africa and you really want to try the Plant-based Whopper, it can't hurt to ask employees if they can substitute the Vegan Royale mayo.) All three new items at Burger King South Africa are certified vegan by the European V-Label program, according to VegNews.

Regardless of whether plant-based fast food is going to be right for every vegan, environmentalists and animal welfare advocates say the industry's willingness to offer vegan options is a good thing overall. Impossible meat, for example, uses "96% less land, 87% less water, and 89% less greenhouse gas emissions than beef," reports Plant Based News. According to Animal Protection New Mexico, some vegans still aren't pleased with these new, meatless alternatives, citing concerns over "the use of animals in the research, development, and FDA approval processes" of some of these products. Still, the APNM suggests that vegans should appreciate the progress the fast food industry has made in making vegan options more mainstream and convenient for everyone.