Mock-Meat Smackdown: Our Tasters Put Faux-Meats to the Test

March 16, 2010

CRAVING BURGERS AND bacon is as patriotic as Little League and “American Idol.” So, it’s no shock that, as vegan and vegetarian diets claw their way into the mainstream, mock-meat makers have piggybacked on the country’s patty and link obsession.

“Fake meat helps people who have never tried vegetarian food before, because it’s the texture they’re used to,” says DJ Kim, owner of Java Green (1020 19th St. NW; 202-775-8899), a vegetarian-vegan lunch spot popular among all breeds of downtown eaters, with a second location to open soon east of Dupont Circle. Not to mention, Kim says, mock-meat “products are becoming tastier than before, and with much more variety.”

In other words, Tofurky isn’t just a punch line anymore. For Meatless Monday-ascribing carnivores and a new generation of herbivores, eschewing animal flesh doesn’t have to mean hunkering down with a mountain of rabbit food for dinner.

To help you navigate the wilds of the fake-meat aisle of the grocery store, we sampled a few popular varieties, all available at Whole Foods.

MEET THE TASTERS
» Emily King, 27, is content manager for LivingSocial and is a meat-loving foodie who can polish off a queen cut of prime rib at Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse with little to no effort.
» Katie Knorovsky, 26, is a freelance writer who went vegetarian three years ago. Two years ago, she and her vegetarian husband hosted a turkey-free Thanksgiving dinner for a table of carnivores — and lived to tell the tale.

QUORN CHIK’N PATTIES
» What: A fungus-based protein popularized in Europe, enveloped in a crumb coating like a chicken patty. $4.69 for 4
» Vegetarian Verdict: Chicken was always our meat of choice in our carnivore era, so this light, tender faux clucker breast satisfies our occasional poultry cravings. It’d be great for lazy lunches when we can’t stomach another Boca Burger or PB&J.
» Meat Lover’s Take: This is actually really tasty, which is surprising. It reminds me of the chicken patties that I ate in elementary school.


YVES VEGGIE CHORIZO
» What: Soy protein punched up with traditional chorizo spices, that’s — bonus — cholesterol-free. $4.30 for 6 oz.
» Vegetarian Verdict: The chorizo was too chewy, but perhaps wrapped in a burrito, or stirred into chili, its jaw-challenging texture would be masked enough to be enjoyable, since the flavor itself wasn’t objectionable.
» Meat Lover’s Take: It’s not as salty as sausage, so you can actually taste the herbs and spices. Sausage can be overwhelming in dishes, so this would be an interesting substitute — it gives a subtle spiced flavor without really tasting like pork.

WESTSOY SEITAN STIR FRY STRIPS
» What: A chameleon-like wheat gluten (low-fat, too) that’s been a part of the Buddhist diet for centuries. $3.50 for 8 oz.
» Vegetarian Verdict: With their unfortunate consistency, these weird little strips give new meaning to the term “rubber ducky,” which is ironic, considering seitan sometimes stands in for quackers in Asian stir-fry dishes.
» Meat Lover’s Take: This texture and taste amount to chomping on really stale French toast with a salty maple flavor and odd mouth feel. Not good at all.


MORNINGSTAR BBQ RIBLETS
» What: A sauce-slathered snack that was the crowned victor at a recent D.C. PETA faux-meat party. $5 for 10 oz.
» Vegetarian Verdict: Fibrous texture plus too-meaty flavor equals [insert gagging sound]. Then again, the only part of ribs we ever liked was the BBQ sauce. Also, how can you not raise your eyebrows at a product that vaguely lists “meatless riblet” as its first ingredient?
» Meat Lover’s Take: It tastes like meat, but not good meat. It seems like a McDonald’s McRib that’s been masked by sugar and salt. It’s pretty nauseating, actually.

LIGHTLIFE’S FAKIN’ BACON STRIPS
» What: Salty soy-and-brown-rice tempeh strips that are fried until crispy to create bacon-y flavor. $3.69 for 6 oz.
» Vegetarian Verdict: Emphasis on “Fakin,” these thick strips aren’t anything like the bacon strips we remember — though that actually earned points from this pork-averse taste tester. The gray-brown, seed-speckled appearance, however, did not.
» Meat Lover’s Take: It tastes nothing like bacon, but more like a blob of liquid smoke that’s been over-salted. There doesn’t seem to be any point in cooking with this.

Written by Express contributor Katie Knorovsky

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