(Mis)Adventures in Fake Meat

For those of you new to my blog wondering what fake meats have to do with kitties, let me explain.  I’ve been a pescatarian (each seafood but no meat) for several years because of my cats (check out my post “Feline Mignon” for that story).  Given my disgust of factory farming I aspire to a cruelty free diet. For now I’m taking baby steps (aka flirting with vegan) telling myself that “something is better than nothing.”

To that end, there’s a plethora of terrible vegan fare to be had. Enough to turn off even the motivated vegetarian/vegan. So I try to review the good, bad and ugly when it comes to vegan foods I encounter. Enjoy!

While at Whole Foods today I came across Gimme Lean Ground Beef Style non-meat meat substitute and decided to give it a try. I used it in my vegan lasagna tonight. Verdict: If you like to eat do not ever – NEVER ever – purchase this product.  It smells and tastes like chemicals, and has a sticky consistency for which I can imagine the 80s phrase “grody to the max” was coined.

I’m not alone in my opinions. Blogger “No Meat Athlete” captured the Gimme Lean “experience” perfectly.

“So we used Gimme Lean for tacos, and the only thing I could say was ‘Gimme something different to eat.’  I’d sooner eat no tacos than eat these again.  The meat-substitute was slimy, weird tasting, and I won’t even start on what Erin thought it resembled in the pan.”

I’m truly shocked the same folks who make Smart Ground make this I-can’t-even-call-it-food product.

Next up, Veggie Patch Meatless Meatballs. Verdict: While not offensive, cannot be described as good.  I’ll take Trader Joe’s meatless balls any day (though I know they are quite high in sodium).

That’s all for today folks. Feel free to share your vegan food finds and horror stories.  I’m all ears. Let us learn from your mistakes!

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  • Sarah Menzies

    Bahah! Love that you try all these “meats” out for me so I don’t have to Tam! Wish I could find Trader Joe’s Meatless Meatballs here though!!! Its funny the effect cats have on us though huh… I’m a pescatarian for the exact same reason as you :o)

    • I try..I try…human guinea pig! ha!

  • Bogiedew

    There are a lot of fake meats out there that are gross..Quorn products are really good..they are not vegan, but they are vegetarian..when I had their “chicken” stuffed with cheese, I had to pull the box out of the trash to make sure it was not real chicken. Their meat crumbles and “chicken” nuggets are also good. Tofuky has good products as well..great pizza and they are vegan.

    • I am def going to try Quorn as many have recommended it. Yes I’m bummed they aren’t vegan. If you are going through all that trouble just make them vegan while you’re at it! oh well!
      i’ve had some fake chicken that is so real it grossed me out! LOL!
      Didn’t know Tofurky had pizza! I Tried one of their cold cuts and didn’t like it.
      Thanks for your readership and for taking the time to leave a comment! 

  • Ingrid King

    Another vote for the Quorn products from me – they taste pretty good. The other advantage over a lot of other fake meat products is that they’re not made from soy.

    • Saw that in Whole Foods and was curious about it….bummer though that they aren’t vegan.

    • Yes, that is what interested me in Quorn as well. I just wish it didn’t have egg in it. boo

  • I’ve always preferred mashing up a Boca burger to replace ground beef rather than any “crumbles” I’ve tried, which all managed to taste horrid.  TVP has also turned out good in tacos.
    Lightlife (the “gimme lean” company) does make a good fake bologna and fake bacon (but be extra careful not to overcook the bacon.  The difference between “done” and “burnt” is about three seconds cooking time).  I think perhaps the reason the only fake deli meat thing I’ve ever liked is the bologna, is because bologna, by nature, is a mystery mish-mash of bits and flavors, so how could they get it wrong?  But turkey is turkey and ham is ham and faking those never tasted quite right to me… lol.
    If you’re looking for a good veggie pot pie, I must recommend Amy’s vegetarian pot pie in a pocket sandwich (as opposed to the round-like-regular-pot-pie version).  It tastes SO GOOD.  So much better than the same brand in pot pie shape, because the crust is different.  Amy’s vegetarian chili is also quite nom.
    Earth balance is a good vegan margarine.  I’ve had horrid experiences with vegan cheeses so don’t have any recommendations there.   Silk vanilla soy milk is good.  I think Soy Dream is the only vegan ice cream I tried that didn’t have that funky soy ice cream “twang” aftertaste that most do.
    I also DON’T recommend vegan marshmallows, or vegan jell-o.  The marshmallows were globs of flavorless goop once you got past the sugar coating, and the jell-o tastes carbonated (dont ask me how jell-o tastes carbonated, but it did!).  Perhaps there are good brands out there that I never tried, though. 😉

    • hmm haven’t tried fake bacon…i should look into it tho since i miss BLTs!
      isn’t it amazing how one brand can have a great product and another not-so-great one?! I guess it does require lots of trial and error!
      Love Earth Balance. There’s a place in NYC, a traditional Italian place that added a vegan diet. they have amazing vegan garlic bread! YUM!
      I like Daiya cheese – have you tried it? I like it for lasagna etc. I use tofu for the filling and sprinkle Daiya between the layers and on top. It melts!
      Also, Doctor Cow (I think it’s called) is really yummy but expensive!
      I LOVE almond milk!
      Thanks Wren for your readership and all your hot tips!

      •  I haven’t seen Daiya cheese or Doctor Cow – I wonder if they’re regional to New York (I’m in Denver)?

  • If  the main reason people are not eating meat is the factory farming, which I agree is absolutely horrid, they may try to find a source of meat which is raised in a humane way (pasture raised with sunshine and respect/kindness, perhaps from a local CSA (community supported agriculture). this is also a great source of veggies, eggs, raw milk, etc. It is more supportive of the environment also because it is Locally grown, not shipped from the nether lands.  I have a friend who (lives in the city) and has 8 hens (no roosters allowed) who provide her with REALLY fresh eggs! (not a possibility in Manhattan I know! LOL)  Thanks for the heads up on fake meat. For protein, I love lentils and discovered Petite lentils at Whole foods (bulk area) which are supper yummilicious!

    • I thought about eating humanely raised beef and pork at first….but I decided if I couldn’t imagine killing an animal i should be eating it…now Fresh eggs i would be into! I try and buy free roaming eggs from the Farmers Market where I know the chickens are happy (those farms are checked out before they can participate in the farmers market). I love lentils!
      Have you checked out my lentil stew and lentil soup recipes!? A super easy thing to do with canned lentils if in a pitch is to dump them into ready made marinara sauce.

  • Kelly Komura

    Sorry you had some bad experiences with vegetarian “meat” products.  I’ve tried so many different fake “meats” over the years, and have finally discovered a few that are actually good. Tom’s Italian-style Meatballs (I usually buy them at Whole Foods) are actually quite tasty. As far as ground “beef” goes, Boca makes some tasty crumbles. Most of the Gardein products are also pretty good.

    • Anonymous

      Thanks Kelly, I will need to try Tom’s meatballs. I have had luck w/Trader Joe meatless balls as mentioned. And reco Smart Ground if you haven’t tried it. I do like the idea of non-soy options….
      Funny I don’t think I have ever head Bocca!
      Yes to Gardien !

      • Kelly Komura

        Yes, I’ve used Smart Ground. I mix it with Boca crumbles to make a vegetarian meatloaf 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I’ve tried the Gimme Lean before, and found it’s only good to use when making stuffing.  I tried making it in tacos, as the blogger above and was REALLY disappointed.  But, I decided to add it into some cornbread stuffing mix a few Thanksgiving’s ago and it worked out extremely well!  I dare say I could not tell the difference between the old sausage stuffing I used to make and this.  I think it just has a lot to do with what you make it with. 

    I’ve been a vegetarian for around 5 years.  I became one about a year after I had lived with my gang.  As with you, it was my complete and utter disgust at factory farming that just repulsed me to no end and frankly, I just didn’t want to be part of that anymore.  It’s been hard, so I am always searching for something to replace meat for me, because I can’t  say I hate the taste of meat, as some vegetarians say.  I LOVE the taste of meat, so I need that illusion. 

    I have found that the Morningstar Meal Starters crumbles work well to add to say a chili recipe.  However, the other day I bought some Gardein Beefless tips and chopped them up and added those to spaghetti sauce and just about died and went to heaven.  Just like having meat sauce.   I also really love Seitan.  It is one of the few products I have found that really gives you a meaty taste.  Really, it’s all about experimenting.   The Gardein burgers are, to me, the closest to the real thing I have found.  The fake chicken products are good too, and I also found a product called Sofie’s Choice, which I myself blogged about, that is vegan seafood! 

    • I never liked the taste of meat..I liked meat that didn’t taste like meat! ha! I’m all about the sauces! I do want to try the Gardein though! I have tried their buffalo chicken in the restaurant before…it tasted so real it kind of grossed me out!
      Never heard of Sofie’s choice…..will check it out. Thanks for the suggestions and for sharing your experiences!

  • Helen, Darcy and Bingley

    wonderful, moving and uplifting news. Love Helen, Darcy and Bingley xxx

  • Sara

    Boca’s fake meat crumbles (in a bag in the freezer) are not bad.

  • Anonymous

    I have never found a commercial meat substitute that I liked, I just don’t like processed packaged foods. I actually learned from long-time vegetarian friends about taking firm or extra-firm tofu and freezing it in the package, then thawing it and pressing it to sqeeze out most of the liquid. Then you can slice it or julienne it or whatever you’d like, soak it in a brine of just a little sea salt and water, dry it off and use it in place of chicken or pork in recipes because it keeps its shape–I even breaded it and used it in place of pork cutlets in a few recipes, and one time made “tofubeef stew” that fooled even my mother and brother. It sounds complicated, but if you thaw meat and prepare it, this is not too different. I’ve really grown away from tofu and other soy products since I find they are just as processed as the processed for I didn’t like before, and much of the soy is not organic or sustainably grown.

    I made up my own vegan meat substitute when I cooked a little too much lentil-rice pilaf one time–it looked like meatloaf to me! So I added bread crumbs plus other dry grains like oatmeal and wheat bran, plus olive oil to give it body and help it stick together and made “meatlof”, “meatballs” for spaghetti and for soups. I also made that old Polish-Ukrainian staple food, holubtsi–or “stuffed cabbages” to those not of East European descent–and I like them better than the ones with meat–and again, fooled my mother! You can add a little agar agar to it to help hold it together if you want, and if you’re not vegan you an add a few eggs. The neat thing is you can make a huge amount, what would equal five pounds of ground meat, for about $1.00, and freeze it in smaller containers.

    Sorry for the long message! It’s something I’ve experimented with for years, and it’s been great fun.

    • WOW. I am so impressed. Can I come over for dinner 🙂  Never heard of agar agar. What that?! Will have to look it up!  My mom makes stuffed grape leaves  for my sis and I using soy. LOVE IT!

      • Anonymous

        Tamar, thanks–I like to get creative with food just as I do with art and writing, makes for some interesting meals, like eating weeds out of my backyard, but that’s another article! Agar (or agar agar) is vegetable gelatin made from red algae, not new at all but it’s been around for centuries in Asian cultures. For vegans, it’s a great substitute in recipes for anything that needs gelatin, like Jell-O, to thicken or set a recipe such as in desserts, or eggs when they are used to hold things together, like the “meatloaf” or “meatballs” I mentioned. It’s also what’s used in Petri dishes in the lab when growing cultures. It’s worth getting to know in the kitchen if you’re learning vegetarian or vegan cooking. And perhaps we can trade some vegan holubtsi for your mom’s vegan grape leaves!

  • I am pescatarian too. My husband and I haven’t eaten meat for about 15 years. I have not found a fake meat product that I want to eat. Instead of trying to recreate meat I have really changed the way I eat and have explored the vegetarian dishes of different ethnic cuisines–Italian is my stand by but some of my favorite new recipes are Turkish, Vietnamese, Lebanese–with their use of fresh herbs and spicy condiments. Who needs meat?  I don’t even think about it. My new favorite foods are so much better!


    •  Yes I agree with you. My Mother is a GREAT cook and can make anything taste amazing without meat or without using butter and cream and other fattening fall backs that make food taste great. Sadly I’m a better eater than cook!

  • Martha

    On the news just now there was an announcement that scientists have perfected the first test tube hamburger, made with beef manufactured with stem cells.  No cruelty free food here.  So you can have your hamburger and eat it too!

    • no …really?! That’s too weird! not sure how i’d feel about that! that’s REALLY fake meat! LOL

  • Have you ever had Quorn?

    • No, but I am going to ! Will report back!

    • Dawn

      Quorn isn’t bad!

  • CG

    Hi there. I’ve followed your blog for some time. I have two wonderful kitties and I run a vegetarian food blog. My husband is vegetarian (I’m not). I make vegetarian/vegan dishes from many cultures and I test fake meat products and post reviews.

    I have liked Trader Joe’s soyrizo and Harmony Valley Vegetarian Hamburger Mix as far as fake ground meat goes. I think the best type of products tends to come already seasoned because the spices mask that awful fake meat taste. I’ve pretty much given up on finding a fake meat product that successfully simulate that meat texture and mouth feel.

    Although I do think that fake meat can be a good part of a vegan diet, I think you can do fine without any fake meat. To me, it’s about having enough variety to keep it interesting.


    •  Thanks for your readership and for leaving your comment!  Thanks for the tip on the TJ Vege burger mix. And I will def check out the Veggies website you left. I don’t eat fake meat that often but i like to mix it up!

  • Sideview

    you do know that your cats will become ill and die without the taurine in animal protein?

    • Anonymous

      If you read the post you will see I am talking about myself, not my cats.

  • Dawn

    I used the Morning Star Farms soy crumbles in the frozen section.  They weren’t bad in my sauce, but just gotta get used to the texture. 

  • getskinnygovegan

    Gardein and match meats are popular.
    Daiya is hubby’s fave cheeze

    • ihavecatnyc

      Yes I like Daiya too!

  • Cindy

    As a two year vegetarian & one year vegan, I’ve done my share of experimenting on “fake” meat! The worst I’ve found for ground meat/burger is Boca…Yuck!! The absolute best, even better than the real thing, is Gardein’s frozen Beefless Burgers, Meatballs, etc. They have that down!!! I also recommend Beefless Beef Tips. They’re great in “beef” stew, chili, “beef” stroganoff, etc. The Chik’n Scallopini & Chik’n Fingers are super good. If I could afford it, I would live on their products. Around the Holidays, The Tofurky Roll is so good that the 1st time I tried it, I got mad because I was sure they were lying about it being vegan. I read the ingredients & sure enough, they were! It tastes EXACTLY like turkey breast stuffed with dressing & gravy on the side. It’s amazing! Hope this helps & forgive me if it was already mentioned in this thread:)) Lots of love from Three Crazy Cats Lady, Cindy<3