Fast Food Hamburgers Contain As Little As 2 Percent Meat

Hamburger 01Before you think that 99 cent deal at your local junkburger joint is a bargain, check out the typical composition of the burger, courtesy of a study by Brigid Prayson, James T. McMahon, PhD, and Richard A. Prayson, MD published in the Annals of Diagnostic Pathology:

Americans consume about 5 billion hamburgers a year. It is presumed that most hamburgers are composed primarily of meat. The purpose of this study is to assess the content of 8 fast food hamburger brands using histologic methods. Eight different brands of hamburgers were evaluated for water content by weight and microscopically for recognizable tissue types.

Glial fibrillary acidic protein (GFAP) staining was used to evaluate for brain tissue. Water content by weight ranged from 37.7% to 62.4% (mean, 49%). Meat content in the hamburgers ranged from 2.1% to 14.8% (median, 12.1%). The cost per gram of hamburger ranged from $0.02 to $0.16 (median, $0.03) and did not correlate with meat content.

Electron microscopy showed relatively preserved skeletal muscle. A variety of tissue types besides skeletal muscle were observed including connective tissue (n = 8), blood vessels (n = 8), peripheral nerve (n = 8), adipose tissue (n = 7), plant material (n = 4), cartilage (n = 3), and bone (n = 2). In 2 hamburgers, intracellular parasites (Sarcocystis) were identified. The GFAP immunostaining was not observed in any of the hamburgers. Lipid content on oil-red-O staining was graded as 1+ (moderate) in 6 burgers and 2+ (marked) in 2 burgers.

Fast food hamburgers are comprised of little meat (median, 12.1%). Approximately half of their weight is made up of water. Unexpected tissue types found in some hamburgers included bone, cartilage, and plant material; no brain tissue was present. Sarcocystis parasites were discovered in 2 hamburgers.


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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5 Comments on "Fast Food Hamburgers Contain As Little As 2 Percent Meat"

  1. emperorreagan | Aug 14, 2013 at 1:25 pm |

    Would be more meaningful if they compared the burgers in the study to ground beef of varying degrees of leanness. I can find data with water content for various cuts of beef – more lean cuts have higher water content – but the breakdown isn’t readily available.

    Of course, the focus was really the brain tissue I’m sure, with the concern about BSE and transmission to humans.

    • BuzzCoastin | Aug 14, 2013 at 2:50 pm |

      since the majority of living organisms are mostly water
      high water content isn’t that surprising
      but the food wizards are tweaking the taste of the fast food mix
      so that we can’t detect their slight of hand
      I think that’s the case
      but I haven’t eaten fast food burger in 15 years
      so I can’t say for sure

      • emperorreagan | Aug 14, 2013 at 7:19 pm |

        I do agree – the margins between what can be called “processing” versus an additive and what is used in quantities that has to be disclosed in food labeling/ingredient lists gives the food wizards plenty of space to work.

        And just focusing on the burgers themselves is missing a substantial part of the package – the buns, sauces, and cheeses can also be loaded with chemicals, preservatives, sugars, etc.

  2. InfvoCuernos | Aug 14, 2013 at 4:43 pm |

    So does that mean its ok for vegetarians to eat?

  3. mole_face | Aug 14, 2013 at 7:51 pm |

    I totally understand the draw of fast food, even though I haven’t eaten it regularly in close to a decade

    I remember the weird dichotomy of being repulsed by the grotesque appearance of my greasy squished McDonald’s double cheeseburger, while my brain was simultaneously being sent false “dear god, this is delicious” signals from the scientifically crafted cocktail of synthetic chemical flavorings contained in the pseudo-food I was shoveling in my mouth.

    The only perk of my celiac disease diagnosis from a couple years ago is that I no longer have the option of resorting to shitty convenience foods during moments of laziness, since 99% of processed foods are toxic to me and I can’t afford all the ridiculously overpriced gluten-free specialty food. Basically I’m forced to eat healthy all the time.

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