Are vegan meat replacements too real?

Vegan burger which looks realistic

There seems to be a never-ending race to create vegan burgers which resemble meat in taste, texture and look.

The Guardian calls them “meat-a-like” foods in the following article:

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/shortcuts/2019/jul/02/im-paranoid-its-meat-the-rise-of-vegan-conspiracy-theories?fbclid=IwAR2MTm5HO65XPz5ONwS0IC4PhZMltOK-Jh5Slu6X6xbVNGwqQNAmkJzTx28

The following comment sums up how realistic things are getting: “”I always get paranoid when [fake meat] tastes so much like the real thing, that one day it’s all going to come out on the news that we have been tricked into eating real meat this whole time,” reads one comment on the Facebook group. In February, a commenter posted a picture of Greggs’ vegan sausage roll, seeking reassurance that it wasn’t real meat. “Had to stop eating,” they wrote. “Please tell me it’s safe.””

One phrase which vegans hate with a vengeance is “but bacon”, however, over the years there have been a number of bacon substitutes on the market. It seems that here too the alternatives can be super realistic, as highlighted in this article:

https://www.mirror.co.uk/money/shopping-deals/super-realistic-vegan-brand-tricks-17910556

There are a couple of interesting comments in this particular article. The first paragraph states: “Looking to reduce your meat intake but can’t tear yourself away from the idea of from a weekend bacon sandwich, or a roast chicken?”  So, are these products even aimed at vegans?

It seems not! These are vegan products not targeting vegans, and that does actually make sense.

I became vegan because I don’t believe it’s right that animals have to suffer and die to provide for me. The environmental and health benefits are something I discovered after turning vegan, but they are reasons why people are not starting to either turn vegan or reduce their intake of animal products. The article also says: “The Isn’t Bacon even have half the salt of conventional bacon, no cancer-causing nitrates and zero saturated fat – so it’s even better for you.”

So, you see, the health-conscious vegans are part of the target audience here – and that is why there is such a desire to make products so realistic.

Meaty-looking vegan burger

While many die-hard, long-term vegans hate the idea of anything which resembles meat, those looking to reduce their intake or new vegans may crave a realistic substitute. There is also the fact that vegans dining with meat-eating friends or family may wish to have something which will have their meal companions say: “Wow, I can’t believe that’s vegan!” Although the potatoes, carrots and cabbage on their plate also happen to be vegan!

The Mirror article also includes the line: “It’s also more sustainable, as it uses 90% less water and 70% less CO2 emissions than meat.”

The environmental impact of animal agriculture has been in the headlines a lot recently and meat production’s impact on the planet cannot be underestimated.

Exact facts and figures are hard to come by, but this Guardian article from 2018 is a pretty balanced look at the issues:

https://www.theguardian.com/news/2018/may/07/true-cost-of-eating-meat-environment-health-animal-welfare

Its conclusions are pretty similar to those which vegans have been highlighting for some time now.

I tried the Beyond Burger with cheese a couple of weeks before writing this piece and I was shocked at the realism. I have pointed out before that some supermarkets have started stocking vegan foods alongside meat products on their shelves:

https://veganonadesertisland.com/2018/07/15/vegan-in-the-meat-aisle/

As I pointed out then, I am not the real target audience for these products – but it’s undeniable that the growing number of vegans will also buy them – and maybe buy them for meat-eating partners, children or friends who come to dinner.

I do like the No Bull Burgers a lot, and I love that they have added beetroot juice, I don’t think this makes them look or taste like real burgers particularly, but then I don’t really know what “real” burgers taste like. I do know what they smell like, however, and I despise it.

I didn’t despise the Beyond Burger, I just felt it was a little “too real”. I understand that people don’t turn vegan because they dislike the taste, look and texture of meat, but because of the suffering behind the meat. That’s me really, but I have grown to dislike the idea of meat so much that the thought of its taste repulses me. But others are different and they are also catered for by such products.

Of course, the fact that these products are controversial means lots of debate and therefore free marketing for the companies behind them.

I personally prefer veggie burgers to have bits of vegetables in them – but I’d love to hear what you think.

Iceland’s vegan gamechanger

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Iceland has launched its extended range of vegan products in the UK.

What’s more, most of them are a pocket-friendly £2 a pack. Couple this with the chains pledge to eliminate plastic packaging from all its own products (https://www.theguardian.com/business/2018/jan/15/iceland-vows-to-eliminate-plastic-on-all-own-branded-products) and Iceland is probably the most vegan of all the supermarket chains right now.

Don’t get me wrong, I personally still champion independent shops over big chains – Backyard food in Peterborough (https://www.facebook.com/backyardfoodpeterborough) and Holbeach Wholefoods (https://www.facebook.com/Holbeach-Wholefoods-129572517136021/) being the two which spring to mind for me – but many vegans still like convenience and use supermarkets – and I’d be lying if I said I was supermarket-free. Plus, actually, these new products excite my taste buds in wonderful and exciting ways.

 

Yes, vegans are everywhere, the big brands are taking notice – the rest of you might as well give in and join us.

In fact, the new range is so extensive I couldn’t buy everything in one go – so, if you wish to review any of the missing products, feel free to comment below.

I reviewed the original No Bull Burgers when they were introduced (https://veganonadesertisland.com/2018/04/09/no-bull-its-a-bloody-vegan-burger/) – and they have become more popular than cat pictures on Facebook.

So, what does Iceland have to offer?

No Bull Tofu Burgers (£2)

No Porkies Sausages (£2)

No Bull Asian Burgers (£2)

No Chick Fillets (£2)

No Bull ‘Meat’ Balls (£2)

No Porkies Chorizo Slices (£2)

Not reviewed here:

No Chick Vegan Paella (£2)

No Bull Vegan Mince (£3.50)

No Bull Jalapeno Burgers (£2)

No Bull Green Vegetable Balls (£2)

No Bull Vegan Chilli and Rice (£2)

No Chick Vegan Strips (£3.50)

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Wow – that’s some choice, right?

Of those I’ve bought, the sausages and meatballs are both wheat-free and all can be pan-fried in less than 10 minutes – so they’re brilliant for a quick meal. You can oven cook any of them as a healthier alternative – but I didn’t become vegan for my health.

So, what do they taste like?

The No Porkies Chorizo Slices have a nice texture, they crisp up very quickly in the frying pan and have a pleasant taste and texture – they’re a little crunchy if you fry them well! The taste is very distinctive, but not overly spicy – they don’t pack a strong punch, more of a child-like jab – but that means the aftertaste is surprisingly pleasant too. I think they work well cold as a sandwich filling too – especially with Vegenaise. The spicy kick is actually more prevalent when they’re eaten cold and Vegenaise counters that perfectly. They would also work perfectly as a vegan pizza topping.

Onto the bangers, No Porkies Sausages are smaller than many vegan sausages, but they cook more quickly and do taste better than many brands. Taste-wise, they’re not a million miles away from Linda McCartney’s classic sausages. They’re mildly spiced and don’t leave an aftertaste. Linda McCartney’s sausages are often seen as the go-to vegan product, so the fact these are in the same ballpark is no mean feat.

The No Bull ‘Meat’ Balls are divine! Yes, they are smaller than some other balls, but size isn’t everything! Like the little sausages, they cook very quickly and these have a very meaty taste to them, again they are not over spiced and so have no strong aftertaste. They are very moreish and their size means they’d work perfectly in pasta sauce with spaghetti.

But, the No Bull Asian Burgers are glorious. The chewy texture, the spicy – but not too hot taste and the not too evasive aftertaste all combine to make these utterly delightful. There isn’t much more I can say really – just try them, they will make your taste buds thank you.

Just as delicious are the No Chick Fillets. These totally wowed me and I wasn’t prepared for how nice they are. I believe they do taste like chicken – although I can’t actually remember what chicken tastes like. Again, they have a taste all of their own – and what a wonderful taste it is. Unlike the Asian burgers, they are not spicy, but the crunchy coating works brilliantly with the delectable, chewy body of the fillet.

No Bull’s Tofu Burgers are, like all of the burgers in that range, bulky and filling. However, tofu can be a bit bland, and these are no exception, despite the presence of a few vegetables. The exterior tastes nice and means all is not lost. They are not horrible, they are just not as memorable as the other offerings from Iceland.
They don’t fall apart like some tofu products, but they are still my least favourite of the products reviewed.

One thing to note is that, as with the original No Bull Burgers, it’s advisable to cook them for the maximum time mentioned – at least.

https://groceries.iceland.co.uk/frozen/vegetarian/c/FRZVGT?q=:relevance

 

No Bull, it’s a bloody vegan burger

 

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The Iceland No Bull vegan burgers were eagerly anticipated thanks to the PR machine going into overdrive on social media.

Sold as being “meat-like” and being “bloody” (well beetroot juice bloody anyway), they were marketed as vegan burgers for those who miss meat – or vegan burgers for non-vegans I guess.

I fell into the “why do you want it to look like meat?” camp when I first heard about them. But, as others pointed out online, new vegans and vegetarians may miss the texture and look of meat and want something a little more authentic than seasoned vegans such as yours truly.

 

 

Package

I do like the rustic packaging – that gives it a “meat feel” from the word go – but plain, to me, says “better for the environment” more than anything else – so that’s a thumbs-up.

I also like the ingredients list – which, for a processed food item, is pretty small really – that, to me, suggests less nasty additives, which is always a good thing.

Ingredients

At £2 for a pack of two quarter pounder burgers, the price is right too. By their size, the four to six- minute cooking time quoted on the pack is optimistic at best. I’ll try cooking them in the oven next time as there’s a real risk of burning the outside before the middle is done – I had to microwave mine to add heat.

They certainly look and taste meaty. I can’t remember what a beef burger tastes like, but I doubt it’s as good as this. It does look red too – it doesn’t exactly bleed, but it does look like a meat burger – whether this is a good or bad thing is up to the individual.

They’re both tender and succulent and they really do melt in the mouth – without falling apart while cooking – an issue with some veggie burgers.

The important thing is it’s a substantial meal and while it looks and tastes rustic, it packs a flavour punch way beyond its bargain price tag. They have a hint of spice and you can’t taste the beetroot – although I’m sure it adds to the overall flavour of the impressive meal.

I bought mine from an Iceland Food Warehouse and was impressed by their vegan selection – as well as these and the usual Linda McCartney offering, they had a few Frys and vegan Quorn products as well as the new vegan-friendly Indian range recently introduced.

Veganism doesn’t have to be expensive

As inflation rises and wages continue to stagnate the price of vegan processed food has recently become more and more noticeable to me.

I have been grateful for the fact so-called “budget” supermarkets have been embracing veganism too for this very reason – I will be visiting Iceland very soon, and I reviewed a new vegan-friendly line from Farmfoods a while ago – https://veganonadesertisland.com/2018/02/05/farmfoods-veggie-kitchen-products-reviewed/

However, of equal concern has been the rise and rise of recipes on social media that call for about 25 different ingredients – including many hard to get or quite pricey ones.

Of course, there are a few simple replacers we can use for some ingredients – vegetable oil works as well as olive oil, table salt as well as Himalayan Pink Salt and so on.

When I mentioned my concerns on Facebook, I was inundated with recipe ideas and suggestions for cheap vegan-friendly ingredients.

Obviously, I wondered about the prices of meat in comparison. I haven’t eaten animals for 30 years, so I honestly had no idea how much a body costs. I was shocked – life really is cheap. Cheese for £1 a block, 50 mini-sausage rolls for £1, a whole chicken for £3, eight tinned hot dogs for 50p…. This was all in my local Tesco Express, but no wonder people see veganism as a “middle-class thing”.

It’s easy for us to say “but isn’t it worth it to save lives?” But that’s a very patronising attitude towards someone in food poverty who is really struggling to make ends meet – the reality for many families today.

Put simply, there aren’t enough budget vegan-friendly items on sale.

Vegan-friendly ingredients, however, are another thing. Vegetables – especially if you eat seasonally (something I recommend for the good of the environment too) can be very inexpensive.

TVP 2

However, the “from scratch” approach is much more budget-friendly – and it isn’t necessarily as time-consuming as one may think. You can get a kilogram of Textured Vegetable Protein mince for a fiver from Amazon, but my local health food shop sells it and the chunks loose – so you can scoop as much as you need pick ‘n’ mix style. The pictured chilli I made was produced using this – it’s much cheaper than a packet of frozen soya mince from the supermarket – I just hydrate it for five minutes in vegetable stock (water from boiled veg counts as stock too). I gently fried two carrots and a large onion in garlic and cayenne pepper and then added passata. I added a tin of drained kidney beans, chilli powder and then broccoli and mushrooms (any veg will do. Tasted for spice levels and cooked for 20 minutes.

I did enough to keep for a second evening meal – maybe with a jacket potato this time. The passata was 35p for a carton, the beans 30p for a tin, the spices and veg were in my store cupboard. A really useful media link is https://cookingonabootstrap.com/category/vegan-recipes/website

Writer Jack Monroe has the prices in pence of each recipe and has a section of the site dedicated to vegan recipes – the link will take you straight there.

There are cookbooks aimed at the budget vegan too, such as https://wordery.com/students-go-vegan-cookbook-carole-raymond-9780307336538?currency=GBP&gtrck=TFFaVzRkM1BPK2pGc0lVTlN6NVVIQ0NpM2tCcFNkcXIxL2hPaU1zYmxKMllXLy9lMFdlYkVhR0pPUDFLZE1PZ0ZKZlo1d2Z4K2JpY0FTYXZvbjNWTEE9PQ&gclid=EAIaIQobChMIvcjq8piJ2gIVyLftCh0mdA5JEAQYASABEgIDbfD_BwE

 

 

I also bought a steamer basket from Wilkos to cook veg in a healthier manner. At £4.50, it was much cheaper than buying a steamer itself. You put the vegetables in the basket, stand it in boiling water, and Bob’s your uncle. Well, he would be if I could adult properly. The first time I used it, I nearly burnt the kitchen out as I let the pan boil dry – a bad, dangerous and smelly mistake. But, hey, we live and learn – or learn while being burnt to death!

Dahls, soups, home-made burgers (I struggle with getting them to bind, I will admit) and spag bog were all suggestions from friends and group members on Facebook. Stew and dumplings was a favourite too. But, make a spag bog on Monday, add chilli powder the next day and you have a slightly different offering for the next night. It was also pointed out that Poundland sells cashews for £1 – well worth remembering for making nut cheese recipes.

One social media comment that did spark my interest was from Alison Hawtin, who said: ”I just made a soup…roasted a cheap butternut squash and some garlic, cooked some leftover carrot and celery sticks on the hob with water, added some dried herbs and then whizzed this up. Added to the deskinned squash, mashed in a pan, add more water and/or soya milk and salt/pepper and Bob’s your uncle!”

I used to use a similar soup recipe years ago – I didn’t even whisk it up – just cooked it in a pan as a kind of chunky soup. I got the recipe from a punk zine- there used to be a lot of cheap vegan punk recipe ideas.

Another tip is, of course, to look for reduced items – or visit markets at the end of the day – I used the latter idea as a student in Leicester in the 1990s. The market traders would often try to get rid of produce at a reduced rate late in the day. But supermarkets often shift salad bags cheaply – also damaged tins etc – all perfectly useable.

EM Charlie’s stew and dumplings post also resonated with me: “Completely wholesome and balanced and delicious! My favourite meal! Red lentils (dried), celery, carrots, onion, leek (or basically any veggie that you enjoy), butter beans (or any bean) simmer for 40 mins with 2 veggie stock cubes, then combine half the amount of vegetable suet to flour with water for dumplings and add in balls to the stew. Let simmer for another 20 minutes. Serve with optional crusty bread and butter! Will last for 3-4 meals minimum.

Again, I used to make a variation of this years ago.

I guess I have become lazy since buying a freezer and having a greater choice of processed foods to hand. But I now aim to reduce my intake of such products (except for review purposes ha ha) and rein in my food bill. I see it as a healthy challenge. It should also help to improve my relationship with the food I eat.