In my 2014 cookbook V is for Vegan I made a point of not using any imitation meat products in my recipes. At the time of publication, there were two main meat substitutes: Quorn, made from mushrooms; and TVP, which stands for Textured Vegetable Protein, a kind of soy bean extract. Since then there has been an explosion in fake meat as veganism has become almost mainstream. Meat simulations now aim for authenticity using technology.
I haven’t eaten meat for more than 40 years. I have no desire to eat anything that resembles it. Shopping for this article I came across fake mincemeat – grey worms of protein that made me want to heave. Mince is one of the reasons I became vegetarian in the first place. Why would I want to reproduce that experience?
But many new vegetarians, often vegans skipping a step from carnivore to plant-based, like the taste and texture of meat. They miss it. Their cravings can be assuaged by fake meat products.
I bought a selection of products from some of the main manufacturers. Manufacturing is the correct word as most of these products would be classed as Ultra-Processed food. I also include the original processed food, tofu, which is what I tend to cook if I’m in need of protein. Tofu starts out as a bean; through boiling, extruding, filtering and moulding, imitating the cheese-making process, it becomes a wedge of white stuff, with a range of textures from creamy to rubbery. I find it useful in cooking: although it has little flavour in itself, it lends itself well to sauces.
For the tasting, I assembled a panel: a meat eater (my sister), a recent vegetarian (my son in law), someone who has never eaten meat in their life (my daughter), and myself who hasn’t eaten meat for 40 years.
We tasted 18 different brands of meat replacements. The most popular meat to replace seemed to be chicken. Some of the brands went to the effort of fashioning little drumsticks.
Flavour: similar to a real chicken burger.
Similarity to meat: very high.
The vegetarians quite liked it. Sienna, who has never eaten meat said, ‘best so far’ and ‘it didn’t freak me out’.
£1.87 per 100g.
Squeaky Bean: Piri-Piri flavoured filets.
Flavour: smokey, bit spicy.
Texture: not dry, soft.
Similarity to meat: more like duck. The meat eater liked it.
Natural veggies: verdict was ‘poor.’
£2.50p per 100g
Oomph: Crispy Buffalo Bites. Swedish company.
Flavour: nice, sweet chilli.
Texture: very soft.
Similarity: similar to meat.
Natural veggies: I liked it, my daughter didn’t.
£1.29 per 100g.
Green cuisine (Bird’s Eye): frozen chicken-free dippers made from wheat protein. They look like McNuggets but contain bamboo fibre.
Flavour: mild to none.
Similarity: look similar but only the outside texture is similar to nuggets.
Natural veggies: best so far, not like meat.
99p per 100g
Flavour: spicy coating, no flavour inside.
Similarity to meat: according to our carnivores, not similar.
The vegetarians disliked it.
62.5p per 100g
Fridge Raiders (vegetarian version): Katsu Tasty Bites. Made from fava beans. Doesn’t require cooking.
Flavour: Strong curry flavour.
Texture and similarity to meat: very similar to real Fridge Raiders said the recent vegetarian.
The vegetarians liked them and said they weren’t ‘challenging’ which is a compliment.
£2.30 per 100g
Vegerami (peperami) made from wheat protein. No cooking required. (Forgot to take pic)
Flavour: chicken tikka. Pepperami.
Texture: tough, close to meat.
The vegetarians surprisingly liked them.
£2.50p per 100g.
Flavour: cumin and curry on outside.
Texture: liked by our carnivore. Similarity to meat: chicken-like.
Liked by meat eaters, not by vegetarians.
£1.32 per 100g
Flavour: spicy with a kick to it. The coating had flavour.
Texture: chewy and very similar to meat but not sure if it was chicken.
One of the long-time vegetarians really didn’t like the gelatinous texture.
£1.15p per 100g
Flavour: lemony. Didn’t taste of sweet chilli.
Texture: mushy, soft. Similarity to meat: none.
One of the vegetarians said ‘I usually like Quorn sausages but I didn’t like this version’.
73p per 100g.
Flavour: opinions ranged between ‘none’, ‘unpleasant’ and ‘vomit-worthy’. Slight hint of pork flavour.
Texture: unpleasant. Similarity to meat: ‘nothing like pork’.
71p per 100g.
Flavour: strongly bacon. Perhaps bacon is an easy flavour to emulate, like bacon flavour crisps.
Texture: if you had it in carbonara, you wouldn’t know it wasn’t meat.
Similarity to meat: almost identical.
As bacon is one of the meats that vegetarians most miss and tend to salivate when smelling, this was popular with everyone.
£2.50p per 100g
Flavour: not much.
Texture: slightly rubbery
Similarity to meat: stodgy.
Vegetarian response: quite liked them.
85p per 100g
Texture and similarity to meat: more meaty than Tivall.
Suitability for vegetarians: gave me the ‘ick’ because it was too similar to meat.
80p per 100g.
Flavour: strong safe. Nice.
Texture: mushy. I disliked it, but the rest didn’t mind it.
Similarity to meat: more like the sausage inside a sausage roll than a cocktail sausage.
88p per 100g
Beyond Meat: Beyond Burger made from peas and brown rice. Coconut oil adds moisture and beetroot, apple juice and pomegranate imitate the bleeding ooziness of red meat. Warning: do not eat raw. American company.
Flavour: Vaguely beefy but not loads of flavour.
Texture: not bad, moist.
Similarity to meat: fairly similar. Tastes and looks like a real beef burger.
One of us vegetarians could no longer stand the bush tucker trial declaring: ‘I’m a veggie, get me out of here’.
£1.70 per 100g
Flavour: tasted of oyster sauce, nice.
Texture: crispy and soft when fried.
Similarity: according to the carnivores it was like fatty duck. Pretty similar. Could be replaced and a meat eater wouldn’t notice.
Veggies didn’t mind it.
91p per 100g
Tofu is the original counterfeit meat. While it is processed it is not Ultra-Processed.
Flavour: I liked this best of all.
Texture: ‘no weird strands’
Similarity: Not at all similar to meat. Not trying to be meat.
Vegetarians: ‘The only one I’d be prepared to eat again’ I said. Other people didn’t really like it.
£1.56 per 100g
Conclusion: by the end we all felt like we’d undergone a bush-tuckers trial with fake meat rather than kangaroo testicles. However the two long-time vegetarians found it more of an ordeal than the carnivores, almost throwing up at times. Quite a few samples were spat out.
Meat-eaters and long-time vegetarians want different things. Meat-eaters want authenticity and meat adjacent experiences. But meat imitations that are too close to meat are repugnant to many vegetarians.
The most popular brands amongst the tasters were the ‘frankfurter’ sausages, Fry’s and Tivall; and Oumph. The worst was Dopsu. Nobody liked this. In fact all four of the panel voted this the worst tasting and worst texture of all the samples.