Supermarket vegan patties and minces fall short on flavour, according to consumer advocacy group Choice
Alyx Gorman – The Guardian
Plant-based alternative meat patties. Consumer advocacy group Choice found a range of vegan options lacked flavour and some were high in salt. Photograph: Gene Ross
With the rise of the Impossible Burger in the US and UK, and a significant increase in the availability of alternative meat-products locally, a future where “meat” is grown from plants or in labs appears to be drawing closer.
But many Australian options are not yet able to convince carnivores. In a 42-person blind taste-test encompassing 36 omnivores and six people who identify as vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian, Choice tested nine beef burger patties and mince alternatives. The highest rated scored just 66%.
Excluding Quorn and other explicitly vegetarian products, they focused only on products sold alongside regular meat in the supermarket’s chilled section that are meant to look, cook and taste like meat. For all test products, the first ingredient – other than water – had to be a vegetable protein.
These scores were made up of a combination of tester-reported taste and nutrition, based on the products’ health star rating, with taste making up 70% of the score. Taste-testers were encouraged to give products they loved a score of 100, products they liked a score of 70 and products they disliked a score of 25.
“It was pretty poor to terrible, to be honest,” says Ashley Iredale one of the omnivorous taste-testers. “The smell and taste for a few of them were pretty appalling, and there was a very interesting texture with some of them. I’d say it fell into what you’d consider the uncanny valley. They tried really hard to make these things look and feel like meat, but they’re just not quite there.”
Bianca Jamett, who has been a vegan for more than 15 years, and a vegetarian for more than 20, was more impressed with the fake meats tested. “Some of them were stand out. But some were totally unacceptable.”
She says that, as someone who has avoided meat for so many years, she found some of them “really similar tasting to meat, which caught me off-guard a little bit. It was a little freaky because I wasn’t expecting it.”
Although all the products tested were highly processed, the meat-substitutes fared better on health than flavour. Six of the nine products tested scored 80% on health. However, many were high in sodium. One burger patty contained 638mg of sodium – around 40% of Nutrition Australia’s suggested dietary target for sodium intake. Some of the fake meats tested also had significant quantities of saturated fat. The levels of sodium are comparable to meat-based supermarket burgers, which are also higher in saturated fats.
Mince alternatives fared especially poorly in the tests, with the highest rated product attracting a score of just 51%.
Iredale says the worst of the lot was “not something I would even consider edible, it tasted that bad”. He also noted that, during testing the cooking smells were so overwhelmingly unpleasant “our kitchen lab crew [were] having to take turns while cooking one of them, because they all had to keep running away from the pan to gag.”
All of the products cost more than meat-based mince and burger patties – with the most expensive patties costing $5.29 per 100 grams – while supermarket brand beef patties cost around $1.30 per 100 grams.
While Jamett is no stranger to fake meat – she occasionally eats fake ham and “anything that’s fake chicken-ish”, she does not think fake beef will become a more regular part of her diet. “I think the range was OK, but it’s a lot of money to spend on these things. I think half the time you can probably make something just as good as some of the products there.”