AndyTalk: A Tale of Two Ground Beef Substitutes

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See also: AndyTalk: Four Riffs on Caprese Salad See also: AndyTalk: Use More Pepper

Does mock beef actually mock beef? Or, does fake beef really do justice to the image in which it was created? Does it taste as beefy as the photo on the package? Before I tasted faux flesh I'll admit that I girded myself to be underwhelmed.

I bought two ground beef substitutes. I made dinner two nights in a row to see 1) how easy they were to use, and 2) how they tasted. There were a number of similarities between both brands:

  • Both were easy to use. Open a box, slit a plastic pouch, put in the pan and heat.
  • Both were grayish brown, crumbly, and bland.
  • Both were dry. I had to add liquid to achieve a mouth-friendly consistency.

I started each meal with some sautéed onion and garlic. I added tomatoes, shredded kale, minced almonds, and coconut milk to the Lightlife meat substitute. I cooked until the small amount of excess liquid had evaporated. I seasoned to taste with salt and pepper. It took more salt and pepper than I'd have expected. I spooned some onto a corn tortilla and topped with Manchego cheese for a soft vegetarian taco. It was good, but not great. I give it and myself a 3.5 out of 5.

With the Gardein I added shredded Brussels' sprouts to the garlic and onion. After adding salt and pepper it had a taste reminiscent of barley (one of the ingredients). By adding a few tablespoons of red wine and some balsamic vinegar it had a more savory flavor. I spooned the Gardein mixture into halved and hollowed Roma tomatoes and topped with a little cheddar. After baking the mixture looked like ground beef and tasted better than the Lightlife. I give it and me a 4 out of 5. In fairness to Lightlife, 20 minutes in the oven browned the Gardein's top and added the good flavors that gave it the win.

Meat substitutes are a good option for recipes that gain most of their flavor from their seasonings; things like lasagna and tacos. If you're craving a good juicy burger you'll want to avoid meat look-alikes. It's possible to make them taste good, but you'll be asking yourself "where's the beef."

Andy Broder is the chef/owner of AndyFood, A Culinary Studio.

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