It’s the sort of boast that starts bar fights. A vegan hot dog, launched in London on May 10, “is identical to its pork counterpart in taste, smell and texture,” its creators claim. But does it live up the billing?
Well, as I learned when I tried the hot dog at the launch, with that classic red-brown sheen, and an appealingly authentic smokiness, it certainly looks right and it smells right. And the flavor? Put it this way: If you didn’t know this was a meat-free product, you probably wouldn’t guess. It’s miles ahead of most vegan hot dogs — heck, it’s better than most pork (and beef-based) hot dogs, even down to the texture and the snap when you first bite into it.
“It’s incredibly important, that first bite,” says Simeon Van Der Molen, founder of Moving Mountains, the company behind the dog. Although this hot dog doesn’t have a skin — in common with classic hot dogs like the “skinless beef Franks” made by Nathan’s of Coney Island, for example — there’s a tautness to the surface, a perceptible resistance when you bite into it, that feels right.
“You’ve got to be able to separate between what is the bread and what is the ‘meat,’ ” Van Der Molen says. “We’ve worked with sensory analysts to develop the product: It’s not just about making it look the same and smell the same, it’s got to have that whole chew, mouthfeel, everything.”
Moving Mountains chose Unity Diner, a vegan restaurant in the heart of Hoxton, east London, to launch its hot dog. Served with caramelized onions, mustard and ketchup in a hot dog bun, it costs 12 pounds ($15.50), a price that, while on the steep side, might even tempt a few committed meat-eaters to cross the square from Meat Mission, a burger restaurant where a more unreconstructed hot dog, called the Ripper — made from beef and wrapped in deep-fried bacon — is on the menu.
The Moving Mountains hot dog is different from that, and from other vegan hot dogs, in terms of ingredients. Historically, vegan dogs have been made from a diverse array of base ingredients: soy protein, falafel or, in the case of Beyond Meat’s Brat Original, pea protein. Moving Mountains’s effort is based on sunflower seeds and coconut oil, a mixture that “reacts in a very similar way” to animal flesh during the production process, which involves a bowl cutter to grind the combination down into a paste.
The hot dog is entirely plant-based, Van Der Molen says, with additional ingredients including onions (for texture and flavor), carrots (for color) and paprika. The ingredients are mixed into a paste, then shaped into a hot dog and cooked. Finally, it is smoked in a smokehouse — there’s no fake flavoring here. Sunflower seeds work well for the paste, Van Der Molen says, but they’re also nutritious: high in B complex vitamins, phosphorus, magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, vitamin E and protein.
The resulting dog is a pretty healthy proposition (depending, of course, on how much ketchup you add): Each 10-inch, 5½-ounce frankfurter clocks in at 146 calories and is gluten-free. Despite its launch in a vegan restaurant, the product is aimed at meat-eaters who want “something a bit healthier,” says Van Der Molen.
“The reason why we’ve made it so identical [to a classic hot dog sausage] is to appeal to people that love hot dogs,” he says. “We want to create a product that everybody can eat without that label on there of ‘vegan,’ which can deter people from trying food. This is something that everyone can eat.”
Having launched Britain’s first meatless “bleeding” burger, which oozes beet juice when cut into, in September 2018, Moving Mountains has had a busy few months. The burger is now on sale at more than 2,000 restaurants in Britain, including the Hard Rock Cafe and Unity Diner (home of the Moving Mountains hot dog launch). In a city where the world’s first “Vegeburger” was created in 1982 by entrepreneur Gregory Sams, it’s currently leading the way, but, globally, competition is heating up. California-based Beyond Meat saw its value rise by more than 200 percent after launching on the Nasdaq composite index last week, while Impossible Foods in January updated the recipe of its Impossible Burger, which is now sold at Burger King. The plan is to make it available in 7,200 restaurants by the end of 2019.
Work on the hot dog began over a year ago and has been driven by Van Der Molen’s evident perfectionism. He says he is delighted with the result. “I took it around to a cousin’s barbecue, and they served it up as a pork hot dog, and nobody knew the difference until I said, ‘Oh, by the way, that hot dog you’ve just eaten and demolished was actually made from plants,’ ” he says.
Americans will soon have the opportunity to try these hot dogs. The product will launch in Zurich later this month, with the U.S. debut penciled in for mid-June. And after that? Van Der Molen says he and his team are working on “all types of different meats,” including poultry, a plant-based cheese dog, and something he’s calling a brat-dog: “It’s got the nutmeg flavor you get with a bratwurst, but not the texture. I want to do something different this time.” If any of these upcoming projects are anywhere as good as his most recent creation, consider us intrigued.
Hawkes is a UK-based food, drink and travel writer.
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