- Fake meat derived from plant-based proteins is going mainstream.
- I’ve been a vegan for 2.5 years and tried out 7 fake meat and fish products to see how they taste.
- Fake burgers, fake steak, and fake fish came out on top, while fake turkey was a turkey.
- See more stories on Insider’s business page.
Sometimes when I bite into a juicy burger, it tastes so much like the real thing that I get paranoid and ask myself: “Is this actually meat?”
Plant-based alternatives have come a long way since I went vegan two-and-a-half years ago. For decades, vegans were confined to rummaging specialist isles in grocery stores to find animal-free foods. Now, these products increasingly sit alongside staple foods in stores.
Burger patties are the most mature fake meat product to date, but I’m generally impressed with the range of alternative foods now on the market. I can bag plant-based pepperoni, shrimp, cheese, and even squirty cream.
Plant-based foods are tipped to steal up to 7.7% share of the global protein market by 2030, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. This would value the sector at $US162 ($AU220) billion, up from its 2020 worth of around $US29.4 ($AU40) billion.
Established players like the Nasdaq-listed Beyond Meat, California-based Impossible Foods, and alternative milk giant Oatly have captured consumer attention. But there’s a huge amount of choice out there in 2021.
I spent a week eating seven vegan alternatives to see what’s on the market, what’s good, and what’s not. I sourced all of my vegan alternatives from the online UK grocery store The Vegankind Supermarket.
Here’s what I cooked, and how I found each product:
The fact the brand’s burger patties are made of mushroom appealed to me, given that most burger alternatives are wheat-based seitan, or soy-based.
You can pretty much cook these however you like. The packet suggested sticking them in the oven for 12 to 16 minutes or pan-frying for 10 to 14 minutes, but also lists grill, BBQ, air cook, air fry, and deep fry as alternative ways to cook.
I also whipped up some homemade burger sauce, some pickle, and a little caramelized onion.
There was nothing sloppy about the patty itself. It was actually strangely firm — too firm. It felt like I was eating dozens of mushrooms flat-packed into the seemingly perfect patty.
Every bite was clean; rubbery, almost. Nothing fell apart or got stuck in my teeth. It wasn’t bad, I was just very much aware of the fact I was eating a mushroom burger.
Considering it is marketed as a mushroom burger and not as a beef alternative, I can’t be too critical about it feeling and tasting artificial, though. I like mushroom, but anyone who doesn’t and picks these patties up on a whim may be less forgiving.
Overall, I did enjoy the burger and it wasn’t bloating or greasy but, for £3.99 ($US5.52 ($AU7)), I would probably go for a supermarket’s own-brand mushroom patties in the future.
The Curators mushroom burger score: 3/5
The company is owned by TOPAS, a family-run firm founded in 1993 that is still owned by its founder Klaus Gaiser. Gaiser moved back to his native Germany in 1978 after living and studying in Asia and began making his own tofu for personal consumption.
Today, Gaiser’s Wheaty sells a range of plant-based meats including for gyros and doner kebab.
It was absolutely packed with spices, I couldn’t help but add to them with some homemade garlic butter.
Once cooked, I thought Wheaty really aced the texture of this vegan steak. It was firm – you’ll still need a steak knife – but a lot more delicate than other seitan products I’ve tried.
The top of the steak was also super crispy, adding a depth of texture often missing from plant-based alternatives.
Taste-wise, it was peppery and not dissimilar from a plant-based beef burger patty. Would I have noticed if I’d served it with peppercorn sauce? Probably not.
Coming in at £3.59 ($US4.96 ($AU7)), the steaks were slightly cheaper and much nicer than the mushroom burgers.
Wheaty steak score: 5/5
Considering “a little slice of veggie happiness” was written on the packet, front and center, I thought they looked a little gross. I wondered what those white bits were. They reminded me of black pudding, just, more beige.
Although I didn’t like the look of them, I thought that they did look like meat-based counterparts, which are made of minced meat, fat, and other mysterious parts of pig or, traditionally, beef.
One positive is that they flip really well, which makes for a nice even finish – is it time to say goodbye to food that rolls away and always ends up with one burnt side?
The color, however, was great. Lorne sausages have a bright pinkness about them, and the meat-free alternative was no different.
I also sliced up some tofu and coated it in spices, mostly turmeric, to act as an egg replacement. Meanwhile, there were hash browns cooking in the oven.
I liked the mild flavoring as in many cases plant-based products can be overwhelming because producers try to overcompensate with a host of spices.
Overall the meat-free sausages taste good, cooked really nicely, and were tender on the inside. While a little dry, I was glad there was no grease.
I coughed up just £2.75 ($US3.80 ($AU5)) for the pack, which is probably cheaper than the muffin I was trying to recreate.
Simon Howie Veggie Square Sausage score: 4/5
On its website, the company calls Future Burger its “darling” and also tells me the patty is heme-free. It is made from soy, pea, and chickpea.
Heme has been dubbed as somewhat of a secret sauce. Rivals Impossible Foods, which is reportedly aiming for a $US10 ($AU14) billion listing valuation, claims the additive is what makes its products taste like meat.
They were really quick and easy to cook, with each side needing just three to four minutes on the heat.
Something that stood out were the instructions to season the burgers in your own way, making me feel like I was actually cooking.
There were no serving recommendations with this one so I went for cheese, lettuce, onion, and burger sauce with pickle. I loaded up with a side of sweet potato fries too.
Everything tied together nicely. The patty was big, in a rounded but non-uniform shape that was thicker in the middle, and a little crunchy as I broke through the top layer to a juicy center.
I thought this patty emulated the texture of ground-up beef really well. Paired with the juiciness and depth of color, I felt like the producers had thought about every element.
For £3.99 ($US5.52 ($AU7)), I thought the two-pack was reasonably priced and hands down the best brand I tried in terms of taste and texture.
Future Burger score: 5/5
The Veganly Deli says its products are all-natural and handmade in small batches, created by top-tier chefs. It also claims to boast the likes of Facebook, Airbnb, and WeWork among its corporate clients.
The slices can be eaten hot or cold so I decided to heat them up and actually have them as the meat element of a roast, as I would never eat turkey other than on a Sunday dinner.
It looked like doner kebab meat but had the right ‘rip and tear’ texture.
I expected it to be pre-spiced so didn’t add any other seasoning to it, but did roast potatoes with rosemary and garlic.
I thought this would bring out any traditional Thanksgiving-esque flavors the turkey may have, but sadly the product didn’t live up to my expectations.
Animal-based turkey is quite dry but because this was sliced and, well, fake, it didn’t have that problem. It was a little bit chewy though, as with any thin deli meat.
It was also the most expensive product I tried, coming in at £5.79 ($US8 ($AU11)), and I can’t say I’d buy it again.
It was my least favorite product. Maybe it would have been nicer in a sandwich instead of on a roast dinner, but I think I’ll just stick with a nut roast in the future.
Veganly Deli Provence Toorkey Fillet score: 1/5
The plant-based fish market is expected to grow by 28% between 2020 to 2030, with Europe currently dominating, according to Future Market Insights (FMI).
Netherlands-based Novish is one such firm thriving in the burgeoning sector.
I liked that there was no soy in this product, which has become something of a unique selling point for plant-based producers as the market is dominated by soy. These Novish burgers are made with wheat and pea proteins instead.
For fish and chips, I normally wrap tofu in nori and batter it. This takes a while and has a very strong flavor but none of the textural characteristics of fish, so I was eager to see how this would fare.
It looked exactly like a chicken fillet but thankfully didn’t taste like one.
The savory but slightly sweet fillet had a little grit to it. The fish didn’t fall apart as a non-plant-based option may, but I thought there was certainly a good effort made to achieve the right texture. I thought it was very close to the real thing.
For £2.49 ($US3.44 ($AU5)), I will definitely be swapping nori-wrapped tofu out for this in the future.
Novish Vish Burger score: 4/5
From the get-go, they looked hard to chew but I was pleased to see they had B12 – a vitamin that usually comes from cheese and milk and in which vegans are sometimes deficient.
I thought the most interesting thing about this product was not the food, but that Heather Mills — ex-wife of Beatle Paul McCartney — owns the brand. Linda McCartney, the musician’s first wife, has a competing vegetarian food range.
I cooked the duck for about ten minutes with mushrooms, peppers, and noodles, topping the dish with spring onions to serve. I actually followed a recipe for spicy dan dan noodles, which I normally make with meatless mince, and made adjustments.
The result looked pretty good and I couldn’t wait to tuck in. The portion was big and, on reflection, I probably shouldn’t have used the full pack.
That being said, the meat was quite delicate. Not to the point that it fell apart, but it was gradually worn down. Bits of duck stuck to the noodles so everything was coated in hoisin.
I also thought the chunks were a little chewy despite their softness, and that they resembled the fat on meat, which was off-putting.
Taste-wise, the vegetables and noodles were overshadowed by hoisin.
I’m really glad I tried this product, but I wouldn’t buy it again. At £2.85 ($US3.95 ($AU5)), though, it feels like great value for money if you’re a duck lover or feeding the family.
VBites Hoi-sin Vduk score: 2/5
The Novish was a strong contender which, I think, shows how far the industry has come.
While I really like that plant-based food is no longer dominated by two options – falafel and spicy bean burgers – and I do get excited about new products, I also think that the attempt to recreate every animal-based product perpetuates the idea that meat should be the centerpiece of every meal.
I prefer a vegetable-based diet for health, and it also forces me to be more creative in the kitchen, but I did like the ease of the alternative meat options. Most were quick and easy to cook so are handy for a busy lifestyle, and, if a person is trying alternatives for the first time, they will know what to expect and what to cook with each product.
I can see myself buying some of these products again if they were available in a mainstream supermarket, but I don’t think they will be permanently replacing my reliance on jackfruit or chickpeas anytime soon.