Monday, May 24, 2010

The Best and The Worst of Fake Meat

Here's an article I wrote for my mom's blog (target audience: veggie newbz) but it's relevant for mine as well. Enjoy!

As a vegetarian, I don't really miss meat. But I do miss the sauces and toppings that come with it! Marsala, Parmesan, Picatta, Alfredo, Teriyaki, Stroganoff, Curry - these delicious dishes are always associated with meat, but they don't have to be. Tofu is always a great choice, but there are plenty of other meat alternatives with fairly accurate flavors and textures that hold up well during cooking and allow you to recreate your favorite dishes in a way that's better for your body and the planet. Here you'll find my take on some popular vegetarian/vegan brands and products so you can choose the perfect option for your own meatless meals.

Gardein - A fairly new addition to the fake-meat family. As far as nutrition goes, it's one of the healthiest meat substitutes - simple ingredients, low fat, and packed with protein. Plus it's vegan, so if you're looking to go eggless and dairy-free, it's a decent option. The downside is its rubbery texture, which makes it not only less realistic, but less enjoyable. The chewiness would be easy to overlook, but, unfortunately, the flavor also seems little off; honestly, I couldn't get through an entire Santa Fe Good Stuff chik'n cutlet thanks to its odd aftertaste.

Quorn - My absolute favorite as far as taste, texture, and versatility. I've been impressed with every product I've tried, from the Chik'n Nuggets to the Meatless Meatballs to the Turk'y Roast (which renders Tofurky obsolete on my Thanksgiving menu). You can use Quorn Naked Cutlets or Chik'n Tenders in just about any recipe and they hold up about as well as the real thing. I've even fooled meat eaters with their surprisingly realistic Chik'n Nuggets. Quorn products are also soy and gluten-free, for those chefs with those allergies. This may sound too good to be true, but there's a strange controversy behind one of the ingredients. Quorn has come under fire for its deceptive marketing - implying that their products are mushroom-based, when really they are made of "mycoprotein" which is, in simple terms, derived from fermenting some sort of fungus in a big vat. It's easy to understand why their PR department decided to play the mushroom card instead - but it isn't completely honest. As far as anyone knows, mycoprotein is totally safe to eat, and its production has much less of an impact on the environment than meat or even soy. I consume it in large amounts and would encourage others to do the same!

LightLife - With so many products to choose from, LightLife has a meatless substitution for almost any recipe you can dream up. And most of them are super tasty. I'm a huge fan of their Italian Style Smart Sausages, which make a great addition to pasta dishes or even crumbled on top of a pizza. Their Chick'n and Steak Style strips are among LightLife's weaker offerings, as they can break apart and stick to your pan while cooking. Quorn holds up much better in those situations - but LightLife strips are vegan while Quorn contains egg. The Smart Bacon is decent, but lacks the distinct smokey flavor that makes some other fake bacons great. As far as deli meat alternatives, the turkey style is the least accurate and least appealing, while the ham and bologna are great sandwich stuffers. Smart Ground protein crumbles are extremely versatile and a staple in my fridge, great for Bolognese, veggie shepherds pie, or adding to plain old mac and cheese).  And now, the darker side of Light: LightLife itself seems a responsible company, using their website to portray a "green" image, but they are owned by ConAgra Foods, a company with questionable ethics and practices.

Yves - While some health food brands are divisions of larger companies with unfortunate business practices, Yves is owned by Hain-Celestial Canada, a company dealing only in healthy, natural, organic, and specialty products. If you're looking for a more socially and environmentally responsible company, Yves is for you. Plus their fake-meats are tasty - and lots of them are vegan. Most of their products, such as the deli slices and Meatless Ground are comparable to LightLife's, and their veggie dogs are plump and delicious. I like to throw their Meatless Pepperoni slices onto store bought pizzas for an added kick, though they're a bit flimsy and don't taste too realistic. Yves Herb Chicken Skewers suffer from the same rubbery texture as Gardein's, but to a lesser extent.

Tofurky - Perhaps one of the most recognized names in fake meat, their product list extends far beyond their vegetarian Thanksgiving turkey substitutes. In fact, the Tofurky itself is probably this brand's weakest offering. I particularly enjoy their plump Franks and slightly spicy Kielbasa sausages, and I hear the Beer Brats are delicious. Their deli slices are great in sandwiches - as long as you load up on condiments - and they're vegan to boot. Tofurky is owned by Turtle Island Foods, a generally good and responsible company which strives to be environmentally friendly. They use organic ingredients whenever possible and oppose GMO's.

Morningstar Farms - With their frozen Chik'n Patties, burgers, and breakfast "meats" found in most grocery stores across the country, Morningstar is often one of the first brands a newly converted vegetarian reaches for in their quest for satisfying meat substitutes. But despite their fresh, healthy image, Morningstar products are really anything but. Most of their products, while tasty, contain artificial flavors and additives that healthy vegetarians ought to avoid. Though I admit their fake bacon is delicious (it even has imitation white marbling to mimic the look of the real thing), I rarely buy it because it doesn't suit a healthy, all-natural lifestyle. Considering all of the great alternatives listed above, I encourage chefs to avoid Morningstar.


6 comments:

  1. I don't know what real meat tastes like but I really love fake meat. Tofurky is disgusting though and I would never consider tofu in par with fake meat. And fake meat has come a long way in the past 15 years. Before I hated it

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  2. thanks for the post! super helpful. come check out my adventures in vegetarianism at thevegetexarian.blogspot.com. :)

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  3. This is a pretty good list, but you forgot to mention Field Roast, which is my go-to for Thanksgiving Turkey-replacement. It's UTTERLY delicious, and ten times better than Tofurky (though I do like Tofurky, esp their fake deli slices).

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  4. Appreciate the tutorials! I would have liked to see more regarding GMOs and who uses them. Only one company's critique - Tofurky - addressed the issue. If these companies are supposed to be offering health-conscious products, they need to inform us whether or not they contain GMOs.

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  5. Far less harmful than salt, but a cause of great misery, is mycoprotein, the euphemism for the processed mold used to make Quorn-brand meat substitutes. However, Quorn products can cause horrible gastrointestinal problems (including vomiting so severe that blood vessels in the throat and eyes burst), hives, and life-threatening anaphylactic reactions. Such ingredients obviously do not have a "reasonable certainty of no harm," the FDA's safety standard, and do not belong in the food supply. The FDA has ignored CSPI's call for a ban of this dangerous ingredient, while the complaints (now more than 1,800) pile up.

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  6. Quorn products are not gluten free! Nor are they egg free!

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