Back in 2019, Chipotle CEO Brian Niccol said in an interview that he did not consider plant-based food to be a longterm trend, adding that customers shouldn’t expect plant-based foods to end up on Chipotle menus. Well, he must be eating his words now, because in the last year alone, the chain not only put out a limited release of plant-based chorizo and put the “plant-based” label on its cauliflower rice, but also invested $50 million in Meati, a mushroom-based meat alternative brand. Sorry, Niccol, but it looks like plant-based meat will be here for a while.
If Chipotle’s journey isn’t proof enough, take a look at the variety of plant-based meat products we tasted in the past year alone. With one glaring exception, we discovered that these meat-free offerings can be a tasty alternative for almost every protein you crave.
Portillo’s Garden Dog
The first-ever vegan hot dog at Portillo’s is a creation of Field Roast, a producer of plant-based protein. The pseudo sausage, which the company sells as the Signature Stadium Dog, is composed of pea protein and double smoked using maple hardwood chips and a combination of steam and dry heat. It’s that smokiness that sets this item apart from other meatless dogs, a preparation that makes a huge difference in the taste.
Portillo’s serves up this meatless wonder Chicago-style, of course, topped with the traditional mustard, relish, chopped onions, tomatoes, celery salt, pickle spear, and sport peppers on a steamed poppy seed bun. It goes for just $4.29, a veritable steal in the world of plant-based fast food items. Read our full review of Portillo’s Garden Dog here.
Good Catch Plant-Based Tuna
Good Catch, a plant-based seafood brand, offers pouches of plant-based tuna in multiple flavors, including Naked in Water (plain), Oil & Herbs, and Mediterranean (which includes garlic, red bell pepper, chili flakes, and other flavorings). Each 3.3-oz. pouch contains 17 or 18 grams of protein and is made from various proteins such as chickpeas, peas, soy, and lentils.
When turned into tuna salad, the result is something tasty and comparable to those made with actual fish. But on its own, it’s not at all convincing as tuna. The best way to enjoy this plant-based product is to dress it up with stronger flavors—all you need from this protein is its texture, not its flavor. Read our full review of Good Catch Plant-Based Tuna here.
Tindle Vegan Chicken
Tindle, which is currently only available in select restaurants, contains wheat gluten, soy, starch, plus coconut oil, methylcellulose, oat fiber, and a mysterious emulsion called Lipi, which is made from “ingredients that are directly sourced from the planet” and supposedly mimics the taste and texture of chicken fat.
The most impressive thing about this product is the texture. It has a soft fibrousness to it that really does recall pulled chicken breast. The flavor, meanwhile, is convincingly savory, but with a vaguely cardboardy aftertaste found in other seitan products. With its textural similarity to poultry, Tindle is probably most beneficial to fast food chefs looking to make a 1:1 substitution in their recipes without having to get creative. Read our full review of Tindle, and how it compares to canned Wu Chung fake chicken.
Beyond Meat Jerky
Beyond Meat Jerky is astonishingly close to the real thing. Though it gave off a strong cat food scent when the bag was initially opened, those odors thankfully didn’t translate to its flavor. The jerky pieces have the right amount of tense chew to them, as well as the proper concentration of flavor: They’re heavily seasoned with salt and lots of cracked black pepper, and after one piece, it’s hard to not go back for more. Read our full review of Beyond Meat Jerky here.
Juicy Marbles Filet Mignon
If you look at the ingredients for a Juicy Marbles Filet Mignon, you’ll see some regulars in the faux-meat scene: Soy protein concentrate, wheat protein isolate, sunflower oil, natural flavors, beetroot powder, kappa carrageenan, etc. The brand also told us that it uses “protein texturizing technology, thanks to the brand’s patent-pending ‘Meat-o-Matic 9000.’”
Whatever it is, it works, because Juicy Marbles is one the best tasting meat alternatives out there. The texture, flavor, and overall mouthfeel of Juicy Marbles is one of the closest approximations to actual beef we’ve tasted. You can enjoy as a faux steak, but the shreddable nature of this “meat” would also make it perfect for sandwiches, tacos, or a number of other applications. Read our full review of Juicy Marbles Filet Mignon here.
Kevin Hart’s Hart House
Kevin Hart was an early investor in Beyond Meat and has been a cheerleader for plant-based protein, crediting it with giving him more energy. But it doesn’t seem as though that zeal has translated to his plant-based fast casual restaurant Hart House just yet.
The burger patty looked like raw meat. Beyond the texture, the flavor was unmistakably inspired by Boca Burgers. Eating it was a bad time. Biting into Hart House nuggets evoked a wet sponge dropped into some loamy soil. The restaurant’s spicy fake chicken (chick’n) sandwich was significantly tastier, but unlike other plant-based innovations we tasted in 2022, Hart House might actually end up doing a disservice to the growing plant-based meat industry. Read our full review of Hart House here.
Panda Express Beyond Meat Orange Chicken
Fast food is increasingly embracing the vegan chicken trend, and Panda Express wasn’t about to get left in the dust: The brand released a limited-time-only entree called Beyond the Original Orange Chicken, replacing the poultry in its most popular entree with plant-based protein.
This Beyond chicken comes in the form of relatively uniform breaded nuggets, tossed in Panda Express’ sweet and vinegary orange chicken sauce. Though it’s discreetly apparent that the nuggets aren’t chicken, they still have the spongy texture of emulsified poultry. With all that noisy sweet and vinegary orange chicken sauce, it’s hard to tell what kind of protein is sitting underneath it anyway. Read our full review of Panda Express Beyond Meat Orange Chicken here.
Trader Joe’s Vegan Salmonesque Spread
Vegan food has come a long way. But vegan seafood substitutes are relatively new territory, so we were cautious when trying Trader Joe’s Vegan Salmonesque Spread. The dip is flavored with capers and dill, and its base mainly consists of vegan cream cheese, vegan mayo, and flecks of soy-based imitation smoked salmon.
The result is a product that is creamy, gently smoky, and truly reminiscent of salmon dip, since it captures that smoke essence so well. While the flakes of soy-based salmon aren’t super noticeable on their own, they’re not the point. The real point is to catch the vibe of the dip as a whole, which this product does admirably. Read our full review of Trader Joe’s Vegan Salmonesque Spread here.
Incogmeato Chik’n and Eggo Liège Style Waffle Sandwich
MorningStar released a regular Chik’n and Waffle sandwich last year with Eggo, but this one is different in that it features Belgian waffles sweetened with pearl sugar, a thicker style of waffle than your typical American toaster variety. The Liège waffle is rich and sweet, contrasted with a vegan chicken patty that’s peppery and salty. While its texture was a little different than actual chicken breast, the meat wasn’t missed. Every bite is packed with flavor, and the execution is solid.
Like many plant-based products that act as direct meat substitutes, the Eggo Liège Style Waffle Sandwich feels like it’s aimed at people who swap meat out with plant-based options from time to time for novelty and variety, and to reduce (but not eliminate) our dependence on animal products. In this case, the Incogmeato vegan chik’n performs quite well, and the simulation scratches the omnivorous itch admirably. Read our full review of the Incogmeato Chik’n and Eggo Liège Style Waffle Sandwich here.
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