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Lately I’ve been thinking about going vegetarian. I’m a die-hard animal lover, I try to only support cruelty-free brands, and I want to do my part for sustainability. Plus, I just moved to California, and I think vegetarianism is a law here? IDK. Anyway, the only reason I haven’t become a vegetarian before now is the simple, selfish matter of… I like the taste of meat. (True story: I tried to become a vegetarian when I was, like, 14. I made it about a week, but then went to the boardwalk and caught a whiff off the Nathan’s hot dog stand and I was toast.)
There have long been plenty of vegetarian and vegan “meat” options out there, but I’ve never been impressed. It’s hard to tell if it’s the taste, or the texture, or the simple psychology of knowing This ain’t real, but no matter how much barbecue sauce I ladle on, I just can’t seem to trick my brain into believing seitan is ground beef.
But it’s 2018 and the fake-meat industry has grown leaps and bounds in the past 20 years. In fact, Business Insider reports that Generation Z will make it a $5 billion market by 2020 — and there are all kinds of crazy new vegan-ifying technologies that are meant to make your fake meat experience much more carnivorous. (Example: The Impossible Burger actually “bleeds.” ‘Cause, y’know, that’s what the vegetarians were really missing: the seeping bodily fluids?)
Anyway! I went to my local Whole Foods, grabbed five iterations of fake meat foods, and gave each of them a highly discerning taste. And I have to be honest: The results were stunning.
Field Roast Miniature Corn Dogs
As evidenced by my Nathan’s story, I am a sucker for hot dogs. Roll ‘em in cornmeal and fry ‘em to the hilt so I can enjoy ‘em on a Ferris wheel? Even better. The batter on these mini corn dogs tastes like its straight from a county fair, which — for better or for worse — primes your taste buds for the hot dog within. When you bite, the dog doesn’t have the expected snap; it’s much more of a softer landing. And if you separate the hot dog from the corn batter, it tastes… fine. It’s heavy on the pepper (probably to cover up the fact that it’s not meat), but really it’s just reminiscent of those generic grocery store dogs that you buy in bulk on the fourth of July. But in concert with the corn — plus some added mustard — you honestly can’t tell that these aren’t just your everyday microwavable mini corn dogs.
Quorn Chik’n Nuggets
Chicken nuggets are an American staple, so deeply rooted in our diets from toddlerhood that they almost always taste good because they’re nostalgic. And these faux-nuggets are no exception. The breading has the expected crumbly consistency and salty-peppery deliciousness. The “chicken” definitely has a poultry essence (more akin to bouillon than live bird) and the consistency is a little too squishy (something like a crouton that’s been soaking in chicken broth). Although that description may not sound appetizing… it also doesn’t sound any different from a McNugget, does it? Put some ketchup on these bad boys and they taste like you’re back in preschool!
365 Meatless Breakfast Patties
This is where I started to get a little more frightened. The corn dogs and the chicken nuggets both wore cloaks of fried coating so I didn’t have to face the meatlessness head on. But these sausage patties sat bare on my plate, their coloring just a little too indigo, their appearance just a little too flaky. I took a forkful and the “sausage” fell apart in my mouth like a loose granola bar, and the flavor was chokingly peppery (I guess pepper is the spice of choice to outwit our tongues?). But more off putting than anything was how dry and loose it was. Maybe if you crumbled this up and put it in an omelet it might fulfill its purpose, but IMO, it does not stand alone.
Gardein Golden Fishless Filets
At first glance, I was happy to be back in my comfort zone of breaded fake meats, but once I started thinking about fake fish, my stomach began to turn. See, frozen fish is already a hard sell for me — I equate fish with freshness, so the idea of freezing fish comes with an undercurrent of staleness — but frozen soy protein imbued with fishy smell? Yep, my stomach did a straight-up somersault. But after I swallowed my fear (and my bile), I was amazed to discover that these… were legit. And possibly better than real fish sticks. They taste like cod. They flake like cod. And because the fish flavor is fake, it’s actually much milder than a typical fishy-fishy fish stick. Add a little salt and lemon, and I will eat these for lunch every damn day!
Beyond Meat Beast Burger
This is one of the nouveau faux-meat technologies that lots of people have been talking about. Just like the Impossible Burger, the Beyond Meat Beast Burger claims to look like real meat, cook like real meat, and even “bleed” like real meat. (It’s actually just beet juice). The media has really talked this thing up, saying bluntly “It tastes like a burger,” (CNN Money) and “It looks, tastes, and feels like real ground beef,” (Tasting Table).
Out of the frozen package, the Beyond Meat Beast Burger does, in fact, look like a pre-cooked hamburger patty. And when the thing cooks up, it turns from pink to brown with the grill and sizzle of a real burger. When cut in half, it does “bleed” a little, which is both impressive and unnerving. And if placed side by side with its authentic brethren, I’m confident no carnivore could tell the difference.
But enough with the aesthetics: This thing tastes exactly like a Burger King hamburger. Whether you consider that a pro or a con is your personal fast food opinion, but it unquestionably has grilled-marked, flame-broiled taste that Burger King has marketed to great success. It’s definitely not a hand-crafted, super-juicy, decadent patty that you’d get for lunch at a steakhouse, but it does taste exactly like a fast food burger which you’d never question the contents of — so I’m calling this one a major win.
If you love a great fake-out, be sure to tune into the return of Imposters April 5 at 10/9c.
Imposters: Pros and Cons is Bravo’s home for everything you need to become a pro at conning. Imposters Season 2 premieres Thursday April 5 at 10/9c. See you in the game.