The strangest thing about being vegan in 2021 is how often you’re asked about the taste of meat. Not cow, nor chicken or pork. No – inquiring minds want to know your stance and preference on the newest plant-based proteins that taste, smell and bleed like the real thing.
Until recently, I didn’t really know how to answer. Truth be told, I’m hardly an expert on faux meats unless you count the staples that have been around for decades – the Tofurkeys, the Morning Star frozen products and Field Roast hot dogs.
But lately, my diet has swung between extremes: one week, I can’t get enough of homemade dishes using fresh, simple ingredients. The next, I’m chowing down on a burger (I mostly blame Target’s generous meat coupon discounts slapped on refrigerator plant-based vegan meats).
While my taste buds still prefer the DIY simplicity of proteins like tofu over, say, the iron-rich, blood-like taste of an Impossible Burger, there’s something to be said of the latter. If anything, it’s a wonderful entry point for anyone looking to supplement their meat with a plant-based alternative.
Plus, as a vegan or vegetarian, it’s incredibly easy to make those comfort foods you crave. No longer do you have to sacrifice a protein to make a dish fit your diet. Just maybe watch the sodium intake.
That’s all to say – and I promise, there’s a point to be made – different vegan meats fill and fulfill different niches.
I tasted more than a dozen the past month (and likely gained a few pounds) and came up with the top five vegan meats to eat for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
5. Impossible meat
Well, this is awkward.
It’s not that Impossible meat isn’t great – in fact, it’s very good – it’s just not what I want. Had it existed 13 years ago when I first went vegetarian, I’m sure I would have loved it. But I’ve moved on from the meat taste, and I fear there’s no going back.
Because – wow, this stuff really tastes like meat (at least, I think – forgive me, it’s been a while). Grown in a lab, the white coats over at Impossible Foods figured out a way to make plants taste like meat by employing heme, an iron-rich compound found in pretty much every living thing.
That’s why when I first tried an Impossible Burger, I felt like throwing up. My body was convinced I was eating red, bloody meat. And my brain was too perplexed to pick a side.
4. Beyond Meat
Like Impossible Foods, Beyond Meat has figured out a way to create a truly convincing burger. Only, this one doesn’t taste like blood. It’s more as if someone was describing the taste of meat to you, and you had 15 minutes to come up with a close approximation using whatever you had in front of you.
For many vegans – myself included – that’s a great thing.
Problem is, Beyond, too, can slide into that uncanny valley. The first time I tried it at Rut Spokane, it was difficult to finish the burger. Almost too real, if you ask me.
But the more I’ve tried it (thank you, meat coupons), the more I’ve appreciated its many uses. You can buy the patties and make a plain ol’ burger, or you can branch out with a hot dog, breakfast sausage or meatball.
3. Field Roast hot dogs
It’s important to give credit where credit is due, and no company deserves more praise for sticking with the vegan-meat game than Field Roast.
The Seattle-based company has been making products for more than 20 years. Odds are, you’ve seen the tofurkey logs at a local supermarket at some point or another before Thanksgiving.
Field Roast makes all sorts of vegan comfort foods like cheese, deli-sliced sandwich meats, frozen mac and cheese and, of course, hot dogs.
Rather than a package of Ball Park franks, I challenge you to open a package of Field Roast’s smoked apple and sage plant dogs and see if you can taste the difference.
2. No Evil Foods Comrade Cluck shredded chicken strips
No Evil Foods is the new kid on the block, but already it is one of my favorites, most important because the packaging is just so darn cool.
Yes, I am judging by the cover.
You’ve probably seen the products while perusing the frozen food section and stopped to take a look. A chorizo called El Capitan? An Italian sausage named the Stallion? What’s not to love?
While I’ve yet to try most of the products, I was recently in the market for a good shredded chicken as I was craving fatty, salty and unhealthy chicken enchiladas.
I fried up the Comrade Cluck, with plenty of cumin, chili powder, onion powder and garlic powder, and the result was exactly what I craved.
1. Tofurkey deli slices
Imagine my glee when, on a trip to Portland, I found myself speeding by the Tofurkey factory in a small backwater town along Interstate 84 in Hood River, Oregon.
I knew the Pacific Northwest was home to one nationally beloved vegan food manufacturer, but two?
And the thing is, the vast majority of products Tofurkey makes – plant-based crumbles, chicken, “hot pockets,” tempeh and burgers, to name a few – I haven’t tried.
But I have tried the hickory smoked plant-based deli slices. And I’ve tried them a lot.
That’s mostly because they’re in just about every supermarket in our state. No matter where I go, I can almost guarantee they’ll be there. Which, for someone who went to school in a small town in the middle of nowhere, is as welcome as the return of the original Four Loko.
It’s about what you expect from a deli meat, which is to say you can use it on anything. Want a turkey sandwich? Go for it. Need protein on a bagel? It has you covered. Want more flavor on that Cuban? There it is.
No other meat alternative has been so utterly … suitable. And for that, I present this crown, king.
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