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    I Tried 9 Popular Meat Substitute Products And Have A Lot Of Thoughts

    Meatless sausages, meatballs, and nuggets, oh my!

    Whether they're vegetarian or not, everyone seems to have an opinion on fake meat.

    Sharafmaksumov / Getty Images

    In fact, it's the number one cause of drama in most vegetarian and vegan Facebook groups (e.g. the greatest hotbeds for internet DRAMA!). Some people can't live without it, while others will never understand why you'd give up meat, only to eat something that tastes and smells like it.

    For the past three years, I've been...vegetarian-ish, going through long stretches of being completely meat-free to eating meat a few days a week.

    Kevin McCutcheon / Unsplash

    At the moment, I eat meat and fish at restaurants and friend's places, but never cook it at home. It's a balance that works for me right now.

    When eating at home, my meals mainly consist of vegetables (tofu is my culinary enemy!) and on rare occasion, a meat-free burger patty or sausage. But, I don't know much about meat substitutes: What ones are delicious or terrible, and what they're even made of. So, I decided to put my life on the line and try some of the most popular meat-free products on the market.

    After sentencing myself to this challenge, I asked the vegan and vegan-adjacent people in my life for their recs (spoiler: I no longer trust most of these "friends"), and researched highly rated meat-free products on Amazon. Some of these items excited me (meatless meatballs!) and others just downright frightened me (need I say more than...corn dogs), and I ended up with a list of nine foodstuffs that seemed popular, palatable enough, and were easily accessed online or at my local grocer.

    Now, let's get into the fake meats!

    (Please think of me and my stomach as you scroll. And, you know, don't judge the random meals I threw together for this post — I don't normally eat half of these things, so had no idea what to eat them alongside. I am very aware some of these meals look terrible.)

    1. Beyond Meat, The Beyond Burger plant-based burger patties


    Price: $5.99 from Amazon.

    Vegan? Yep!

    Main ingredient: Pea protein isolate (aka a protein extracted from yellow split peas!). Bonus fact: The color in this product comes from beet juice extract.

    Cooking methods: Grill on a barbecue or in a skillet.


    Review: I've tried The Beyond Burger on a few occasions now and have liked it every single time! I think what freaks most people out about these patties is just how similar they are to actual meat. However, once you understand that the raw-beef color is actually from beet juice, and that they're made mainly of pea protein, hopefully you'll feel a bit less weird. The trick to these patties is cooking them for the recommended time (three minutes on each side) and no longer, even if you reallllllly think they could do with an extra few minutes on the grill. This quick cooking leaves the burgers juicy on the inside and super tasty. If burgers are your One Thing I Could Never Give Up If I Went Vegetarian, rest assured these exist, and they're damn good.

    (Bonus tip: If you feel like burgers but forget to buy buns, toast will do the trick!)

    2. Trader Joe's meatless meatballs

    Price: $3.99 from Trader Joe's

    Vegan? Yes!

    Main ingredients: Textured soy protein and textured vegetable protein. (Fun/weird fact: These two textured proteins are actually the same thing: a by-product of soybean oil.)

    Cooking methods: Simmer on stovetop, bake in oven, or microwave.

    Review: These are truly great. They're as close to real beef meatballs as I can ever imagine a meat substitute getting — the texture and flavor was spot on. There was a very slight bread-crumb taste that hinted that they aren't actual meat, but it definitely wasn't a bad taste. To cook these, I just added them (still frozen) to my pasta sauce as it simmered, and they turned out perfectly. I will without a doubt buy these again.

    3. Lightlife smart bacon meatless veggie strips

    Price: $3.99 from Amazon.

    Vegan? They sure are.

    Main ingredients: Soy protein isolate (a protein that's ~isolated~ from soybeans), vital wheat gluten (aka seitan, that's defs not suitable for gluten-intolerant folks!), soy protein concentrate, textured wheat gluten.

    Cooking methods: Skillet, conventional oven, or toaster oven.

    Review: LOL, this bacon. Look at it! It was...not like bacon. I will admit that I'm 98% sure I cooked it for too long, but still, this did not resemble the bacon I have known and loved before. If you're a vegan, vegetarian, or someone who doesn't eat pork, this could probably satisfy a craving, though I'd suggest putting them on a sandwich or in a wrap rather than throwing them straight on your plate and hoping for the best like I did. My review? They tasted like salty cardboard.

    4. Quorn chik'n nuggets

    Price: $4.89 from Amazon.

    Vegan? Nope! These contain egg.

    Main ingredients: Mycoprotein (member of the fungi/mold family that low-key might fuck you up if you have a intolerance), wheat flour, dehydrated egg white.

    Cooking methods: Oven or microwave.

    Review: OK, so, you know what a chicken nugget tastes like? Not like, a McDonald's chicken nugget, or the best nugget you've ever had, but just a regular frozen nugget your mom might have thrown in the oven for an afternoon snack? Well, that's exactly what these tasted, felt, and looked like.

    If you put the whole mold/fungi protein thing out of your mind, and pause your prayers that these won't upset your stomach, these honestly just taste like regular chicken. And not in the "Oh yeah, this random animal meat you've never heard of tastes just like CHICKEN" way, just in a normal "This tastes like chicken" way. I'm not a regular chicken nugget eater, so I won't buy these again, but if I was (or had a kid that was? IDK?) I'd go for it!

    5. Gardein seven grain crispy tenders

    Price: $4.69 from Amazon.

    Vegan? Yes.

    Main ingredients: Enriched wheat flour, soy protein isolate, vital wheat gluten.

    Cooking methods: Conventional oven, toaster oven, or microwave.

    Review: I've heard such good things about Gardein products — particularly these tenders — so I was really surprised when I didn't like them. The "chicken" was chewy, a little dry, and way less convincing then the Quorn nuggets. I finished all the tenders that were on my plate, but I definitely struggled through the last few.

    6. Field Roast vegetarian grain meat Italian sausages

    Price: $5.99 from Amazon.

    Vegan? Yes, sir.

    Main ingredients: Vital wheat gluten.

    Cooking methods: Grill on outdoor grill or sauté in a pan.

    Review: Full disclosure: these sausages were already on a medium-level rotation in my home. I didn't technically have to test them for this post, but I needed the photos, so it was nice to have an excuse to cook them. What I like about these sausages is that they're relatively meat-ish in taste and texture, but you can also taste the eggplant, onion, and other spices they contain, which makes them feel fancy. During total vegetarian phases I've taken these to barbecues and have shared them with meat-eating friends, hearing no complaints. They're the best vegetarian sausage I've tried, so if you're looking for one to try I'd suggest starting with these.

    7. Field Roast miniature corn dogs

    Price: $7.99 from Amazon.

    Vegan? Yes!

    Main ingredients: Vital wheat gluten.

    Cooking methods: Oven or microwave.

    Review: These lil' guys are literally just Field Roast frankfurters in a cornbread batter. I have mixed feelings about these because I'm just...not a corn dog person. I can totally understand why someone who actually is a corn-dog lover would enjoy these. I can't actually remember the last time I ate a corn dog, but from memory these taste pretty similar? If not a little less greasy, and cuter because they're mini.

    8. Tofurky oven-roasted deli slices

    Price: $2.99 from Whole Foods.

    Vegan? Yes.

    Main ingredients: Vital wheat gluten, organic tofu.

    Cooking methods: They're served ready to eat.

    Review: I wish I had a less-Australian reference to make here, but the only way I describe the smell of these "deli slices" is like Vegemite, but not in a "Oh yum, a buttery slice of toast with my favorite yeast spread" way, more in a..."Um, why does this smell so painfully salty and unpleasant" way.

    I decided to try these slices on their own, figuring that if they were on a sandwich or wrap the flavor might get lost. I wish I did not make that decision. They were...not good. They were so slimy, salty, and un-turkey like, this is the only product on the list I physically couldn't eat. That bite you see on the right? It's the only one I took, and it got spat into the bin.

    9. Butler soy curls

    Price: $7.49 from Amazon.

    Vegan? Yeah!

    Main ingredients: Soy beans.

    Cooking methods: Soak in water, then brown in skillet.

    Review: I came across these curls when writing a post about highly rated meat- and dairy-free products on Amazon. A ton of people rave about these, so I decided to try them. That said, they were the most intimidating item I bought (how were these dried crisps going to become meaty morsels?!), so I left them until last to try.

    To make these, you soak the curls in water for 15 minutes — aka until they look like weird slices of low-quality boiled chicken (YUM!) — then brown them in a pan. The packet then says you can add the curls to any dish you like. I added them to a red curry.

    On their own, the curls are flavorless, but the texture is pretty similar to meat. In the curry, they seemed to absorb quite a lot of the flavor, but didn't add a lot to the dish overall. If you're someone who NEEDS some kind of meat-like substance in their foods (I am not) these might be good for you, as long as they're added to something with a lot of flavor. Otherwise, they feel kinda pointless to me.

    Now, some final fake-meat thoughts for you:

    * My favorite product was definitely the Trader Joe's meatless meatballs. I will definitely buy these again.

    * If you've ever been intrigued by The Beyond Burger, but felt too scared to try it — just do it! They're actually really yummy and not gross/weird at all, I promise.

    * If you're looking for a fake chicken nugget/strip, I would go Quorn over Gardein. I think this might be controversial??? but it is my honest opinion. Just be careful of the whole fungi/mold protein thing too, I guess!

    * Someone needs to call the cops on Tofurky.

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