Fake Meats…Delicious or Disgusting?

January 10, 2010 By: Megabeth Category: Article Print This Post Print This Post

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Fake meats. Are they delicious or disgusting? I’ve been inspired by a recent photo poll on Huffington Post to explore this very question. And, as you suspected, for most folks the answer is “disgusting” for me the answer is “it depends”.

Sure, us vegetarians have all heard it, “Why are you a vegetarian if you still eat things that taste like meat?” That’s not the point, at least as far as I’m concerned. We’ve all received the memo that meat substitutes don’t taste like meat. So, if the marketing team decides to call it fake chicken or fake beef, that’s up to them. I’m not looking for something to replicate meat. I’m looking for things that taste good and for ingredients that convey a flavor that I’m looking for in a particular dish.

What’s key to remember when working with fake meats or meat substitutes is that if you are expecting them to taste exactly like the meat they are supposed to be mimicking, they never will. I learned that early with bacon and pepperoni substitutes. You will never be able to recreate that taste. Many people have asked me if I miss bacon. Honestly, I don’t.  So, if I’m eating a bacon substitute I’m not expecting it to taste like bacon.  The spices in the product make fake bacon a good addition to a modified BLT sandwich.

Moving on to veggie burgers. I’ll admit, I usually have a box of Gardenburgers or Boca Burgers in the freezer so I don’t thumb my nose at them. Over the past few years there has been an explosion of flavors in what you can find in the store’s freezer. Some are a lot better than others, so you really have to experiment with what you like. In the refrigerated section you can also find portabella burgers and some grocery stores, like Whole Foods, have hand crafted patties. I prefer these much more than the frozen versions. Meanwhile, I do have a book of recipes of exclusively veggie burger recipes and have tried out a lentil goat cheese burger recipe that came out really good. But,  I hope to work on more of these recipes this summer when I can fire up the grill.

Ordering veggie burgers in restaurants gets tricky. Here’s my sage advice: When ordering a veggie burger from someplace new, don’t try to imagine what kind of burger they will bring out. Your mouth could be watering for a chunky, juicy, handmade patty and then be presented with a thin hockey puck. (This disappointment is otherwise known as, “Oh geez! We have a vegetarian at table #12! Run to the store and pick up a frozen box of Gardenburgers!” ) However, because I don’t set any expectations I’ve been pleasantly surprised when I am handed a gourmet and succulent veggie burger. Most notably, in Pittsboro, North Carolina and Katoomba, Australia. Also, you can’t go wrong with a veggie burger at Ted’s Montana Grill. They are also quite tasty.

As for fake hot dogs, that’s a whole other story. I’ve never met any veggie hot dog that I really like. Sure, I’ve been known to eat them at a baseball stadium or other random location, but that’s only out of desperation. And, I most certainly don’t even bother keeping them in my house. They are usually rubbery, chewy and tasteless. But never fear, vegetarians don’t have to feel left out at BBQ’s. Head towards the vegetarian sausages that come in a spectacular array of flavors. A while back, I introduced everyone to Vegetarian Sausagepalooza – a review of two brands of veggie sausages. You’ll find that the flavors you get out of these products depend on how you cook them. Stick them in a microwave, and you’re missing out. Fry them or grill them and you get more smoky flavors.

Then, there are the litany of other kinds of “fake meats” made out of seitan, TVP, tofu, and tempeh. They come in all types of shapes and forms from frozen cutlets to refrigerated stir-fry strips. I’ve made several recipes using these fillers and they all play different roles in different recipes. In vegetarian goulash, the seitan serves as a chewy stew like accompaniment the joins the rest of the ingredients.

But, if made as crispy fried bites, the seitan is the feature of the recipe.

If you’re not up to cooking from scratch, manufacturers have made it much easier to enjoy these creations through products that go beyond “chicken-like” and “beef-like” but also versions with sauces and marinades so all you have to do is heat and serve.

So, fake meats, delicious or disgusting? It’s not as simple as that. Because there is such a wide variety of flavors and forms, it’s best to not assume that you’re not going to like all fake meats. You have to experiment with all the different kinds of products rather than run and cower from them. If you’re looking for a vegetarian version of meat to taste exactly like the meat it’s substituting, stop searching because you’re never going to find it.

3 Comments to “Fake Meats…Delicious or Disgusting?”

  1. I’ve tried a fair amount of these and generally haven’t been impressed, though there are some nice tasting ones.
    I think they’re very useful for ‘new’ vegetarians who haven’t had much practice cooking veggie yet. It’s easy for them to just substitute the fake meat for the old meat.

    ““Why are you a vegetarian if you still eat things that taste like meat?” That’s not the point, at least as far as I’m concerned. ”
    Oh i’m so sick of hearing that one, almost as sick as hearing “so why are you vegetarian? Don’t plants have feelings too?” :)

  2. I think it also comes down to convenience. If I’m looking for something quick to eat when I’m starving, a gardenburger will do. I’m not looking for gourmet…I’m looking for something to eat. But, as I said, I’m never touching another veggie hot dog. I won’t stoop that low. Yuck!

    By the way, I’m also about to tackle the another frequently asked question in a post in the coming weeks, “Where do you get your protein?” That one always gets me, too.

  3. have you tried soyrizo? that’s some good stuff, I highly recommend it, especially on breakfast tacos. there are several brands & they’re all good.
    I like fake meat from time to time. I don’t eat it often, but sometimes I want something quick & easy. I usually go for fantastic burgers over boca.

    Frankly I think that most who eat meat go for it because it’s quick & easy. The most common question I get is “so, what do you eat?” I mean really do you think they’re eating gourmet every night, or even once a month for that matter.


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