New vegan 'chicken' sells out in days with promise of authentic texture and taste… but can it impress our meat-loving tester
20:04 GMT, 14 June 2012
Fake meat doesn't have the sexiest reputation among foodies but a new meat alternative is fooling even the most discerning carnivores.
Beyond Meat's Veggie Chicken Strips have been flying off the shelves at Whole Foods in Northern California, with a week's supply depleted in just two days in San Francisco.
At the cutting edge of plant protein research and development, Beyond Meat products claim to have no fat, zero steroids, and no trace of hormones or antibiotics that are allegedly pumped into real poultry.
Scroll down for our verdict
Beyond Meat's Vegan Chicken Strips are so indistinguishable from the real deal, the product has been selling out at San Francisco's Whole Foods
Whole Foods' coordinator Mathew Mestemacher admitted to ABC that the brand's immediate popularity was unexpected: 'We're a little taken aback. The response is overwhelming.'
Vegetable protein is the key ingredient in Beyond Meat products, as a combination of soy and pea-powder, carrot fiber and gluten-free flour is heated, cooled and subjected to pressure before being formed into strips.
As well as chicken, the concoction can imitate beef, pork and fish, Beyond Meat founder, Ethan Brown explained.
The process that 'takes plant proteins and re-aligns them to mimic the appearance and the mouth-feel of animal proteins,' was developed over a number of years in collaboration with university bio-engineer professors.
Today the $340 fake meat market is slowly but steadily on the rise growing about five per cent yearly, according to research firm Mintel.
Mr Brown is not necessarily looking
to preach to the converted, though – instead he wants to capture the
attention of the non-converts with his healthy and resource efficient alternative.
Proof: A nutritional chart shows how healthy the ingredients of Beyond Meat's vegan chicken strips are
According to the company website, as a child, he learned about animal-based agriculture at his father's dairy farm in western Maryland and subsequently grew up wondering if people would really continue to eat animals if 'a delicious and perfect plant-based replication of meat existed'.
Certainly he has managed to convince New York Times food columnist Mark Bittman that meat cab be fabricated with undetectable results.
After sampling the false chicken, he wrote: 'On its own, Brown's “chicken” – produced to mimic boneless, skinless breast – looks like a decent imitation, and the way it shreds is amazing.'
In a burrito he went on to say, 'you won't know the difference between that and chicken. I didn't, at least, and this is the kind of thing I do for a living.'
Better than even the taste though, perhaps, is the price that could sway even the most enthusiastic carnivores.
While Beyond Meat is still experimenting with price points Mr Brown explained: 'Our goal is to have the price be at the lower end of the other meat-substitutes and below the price of meat.'
But don't get too excited to run to your local Whole Foods just yet as the product is still only available in Northern California branches and at Roots Market in western Maryland.
That is unless demand remains as high, said Mr Mestemacher: 'If we continue to see this kind of excitement, we're not going to wait two months to roll it out. It could be two weeks.'
SO WHAT DOES BEYOND MEAT 'CHICKEN' TASTE LIKE
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Convincing: Our tester's housemates were fooled into thinking Beyond Meat's 'chicken' was the real deal
It there is one thing San Francisco loves, it is food, and particularly vegan food. From the food trucks across the city to the huge number of vegan cafes and juice bars, it’s no surprise that the latest meat alternative was developed and is being tested here.
In fact, Beyond Meat has been so popular after just a few days on sale at handful of Whole Foods stores, finding some was a big challenge.
However, after a few cab rides across the city, I was able to secure two salads made with it – a chicken curry, and a grape and walnut salad.
The cost is roughly the same as a normal salad at the store, around $5 for a small tub, and to the naked eye, they look absolutely identical.
The Beyond Meat is cut into randomly shaped small chunks, and does looks exactly like normal chicken strips.
Biting into it also, uniquely among meat substitutes, really does feel like chicken. The texture, and the way it disintegrates in your mouth is absolutely identical, and for a confirmed meat eater like myself its a rather odd sensation.
However, the one slight giveaway is the taste. As the old joke goes, it does taste like chicken – but in this case, very bland chicken.
At Whole Foods, where staff told me they had been inundated with customers asking for it, staff said that strong flavours were key to their initial recipes, so chicken curry and the salad I tried are the perfect combination.
In fact, the grape and walnut salad was my favourite, the Beyond Meat being masked by celery, grapes, walnuts and dressing.
In the right recipe, it is absolutely indistinguishable from real chicken, and my housemates were entirely fooled by it. For vegans who miss meat, it could be a godsend. With a beef version on the way later this year, who knows – maybe we will all be biting into it soon.