Vegan foods reviewed – part 5

I’m actually finding that my intake of faux dairy and mock-meat products goes in waves depending on my mood: when I feel sad or need comfort food, they get purchased in abundance; if I’m feeling good and healthy, then it’s all veggies, salads and smoothies for me! Lucky for you, I’m feeling a bit blah…so here come some omni-style treats! 🙃

We’ve got a “sour cream” show-down for you today, some meat-y snacking and a new offering from our American friends at Upton’s.

vegan-symbol

These reviews are particularly geared towards former omni eaters who are keen to have that meat or dairy favourite available as a tasty cruelty-free equivalent.

About the ratings system: Ratings are for what I consider the important elements of an appealing food product, with “Texture” being one that you might not normally see for other food reviews, but to me it is quite indicative of the success of a meat or dairy substitute. I choose “Value” over “Price” as vegan foods are generally more expensive than their meat or dairy counterparts (or rather, the latter are unreasonably and irrationally cheap given what they are) so I choose to focus on how good they are for the amount you pay.

On to today’s reviews:


** SOUR CREAM SHOWDOWN **

PRODUCT 1: TOFUTTI BETTER THAN SOUR CREAM

Type: non-dairy Sour cream
Country of origin: USA
tofutti.com

259850

overall-5
flavourrating-5
texturerating-5
valuerating-4

vs

PRODUCT 2: GREEN VIE SOUR CREAM
Type: non-dairy Sour cream
Country of origin: Cyprus
greenviefoods.com

9415

overall-5
flavourrating-5
texturerating-5
valuerating-4

Sadly, this will be a no-contest right off the bat when you look at the scores. When I decided to give the Green Vie a shot today, I was really expecting it to be a gloves-off, fight-to-the-finish competition between these two. I have been eating Green Vie’s cheeses and I find them good value and quite comparable to bigger, more established brands. I’ve been admittedly eating Tofutti for some time and it’s always my go-to for their sour cream and cream cheese products, but I figured there’s always opportunity to be newly wowed by competition. Today was not that day however.

Right off the bat, the Green Vie (GV) came in at over 20% more expensive than the Tofutti…I was expecting it to be extra gourmet! Tofutti is good value given that it comes from overseas and it is so tasty, but it still comes in at almost twice the dairy-equivalent price (as I’ve covered with this before, dairy is subsidised and undervalued so it’s not a totally fair comparison). Looking at the ingredients, the GV has a pretty short list and read more like it was one of their hard cheeses, which was a bit worrying.

The first thing that struck me upon opening the container was that they totally missed the boat with the texture (and have made totally false advertising on the package): it was lumpy, see-transparent and a cool-white colour – all very un-sour cream like. I didn’t care for it’s runnyness as I loaded some onto my corn chip. Sadly, the taste was equally disturbing: not so sour, quite strong coconut oil taste, and just a bit odd. I’m not sure how they missed the mark so spectacularly to be honest, unless sour cream in Cyprus is much different than North American or Australian equivalents.

The Tofutti is a very different beast. The texture is a little firmer than dairy sour cream, but if you stir it, it whips up into a super-smooth confection. Dipped with salsa on a corn chip (the way I love eating this combo), it is as near-perfect as I can recall to my dairy-eating days. It has a “sour” that isn’t simply some lemon added to the mix, but more subtle and accurate. Blobbed on top of nachos, or stirred into a mushroom stroganoff makes my tummy smile as to it’s perfect simulation for sour creamy meals. On it’s own it is also very good, though you start tasting that it’s not quite the same as the dairy version. However, I don’t recall ever eating sour cream straight from the tub so it doesn’t matter.

The verdict is quite clear: Green Vie, what’s the deal? How did things go sooo wrong?


PRODUCT: UPTON’S NATURALS – CH’EESY BACON MAC
Type: Prepared meal
Country of origin: USA
Upton’s Naturals

overall-5
flavourrating-5
texturerating-5
valuerating-3

Bacon-Mac-Front

As I recently did my first Upton’s review, you can read a bit more in-depth background about them there, and I’ll just move into the review…

The meal comes in microwave-ready vacuum-sealed plastic pouches, one being the pre-cooked pasta (thick macaroni) and the other being the cheese and “bacon” mixture. As previously, the package says it is “2 serves” which is not true if you are a normal-sized human eating this as a main meal. It is a “just-enough” serve for one person, but I might be hungry in an hour. The $9 price point is therefore quite steep given the quantity but also the contents: seeing a simple bag of pasta and a little sachet of cheese mix and that is it made me think that this was quite a poor deal given their other products are more exotic with their ingredients. Worse yet, when I opened the sauce sachet, there were a whole 4 pieces of “bacon” and they were the colour of the sauce. Note in the product photo that there are at least double the amount of meaty red pieces. Not good Upton’s.

Flavour-wise I was not too impressed. Nutritional yeast (“nooch” as vegans tend to refer to it) is the primary ingredient and to me that is yesterday’s cheat to making something sort of “cheesy”. When I make homemade mac and cheese, I use cashews and a bundle of different ingredients to create a rich, creamy and very flavourful sauce. This one was thin, salty and too nooch-y. Even the texture failed as the sauce was a bit gritty and just not rich in that way that comfort food needs to be. Even with the obligatory ketchup drizzled atop the meal after I’d tasted it naked, it still revealed the gritty, salty side which just wasn’t satisfying.

Overall, a huge miss compared to the hit that was their Massaman Curry and the fact that both items were priced the same makes this one even more of a dud. Disappointed as I was very much looking forward to it.


PRODUCT: A&T INTERNATIONAL ROASTED VEGAN JERKY
Type: Mock meat snack
Country of origin: Taiwan
(no official site found; referring to reseller page Vegan Online)

overall-4
flavourrating-4
texturerating-5
valuerating-4

IMG_6785
When I did eat meat, I actually didn’t indulge in beef jerky all that much. I have liked hot and spicy food for many years however and that is probably what initially drew me to try this Roasted Vegan Jerky. It is made by Taiwanese company obscurely known as A&T International Soya Food and there is no official website from the Googling that I did. More than likely, that name is the distributor and their name is only in untranslated Taiwanese. Regardless, they sell the stuff at the link above if you are keen to try!

What I appreciate about this product most of all is the legitimate chewiness and fibrousness of the jerky, so it actually takes some effort to pull it apart, all the while kicking your butt with some hot chilli spices. I’ve not come across this texture simulation before in a vegan product. I like it! It’s also got a properly meaty flavour that isn’t just all hot, but also clearly a meat-like layering of taste. Thankfully, it’s not identical to the sinewy nature of dried animal muscle but it makes you work for it; if you miss that aspect of your former meat-eating days, then this will give you plenty of satisfaction.

The price is decent for what it is, albeit a small 120g packet for $5.50, but it’s a satisfying treat that does very well to simulate it’s meat-based cousin.

 


Vegan foods reviewed – part 3

It feels like I’ve semi-abandoned the vegan and sustainability part of this site but I’m getting back into it as I ramp up my focus on plant-based living and working.

The last products I reviewed were 5 years ago and wow, have things exploded in the vegan realm since then. The expanded range of options in every food group is impressive and exciting as the vegan movement takes hold of the world’s meat and dairy eaters. There are so many good dairy-free options now too, that I suspect even on-the-fence vegetarians might finally ditch their one last hold-out to full vegan eating!

I’ve made this page more extensive and visual, and will try to give variations on the same product type in order to truly compare the options that you have. I generally review products that have meat or dairy equivalents since otherwise they can just be called “food” since anyone can and does eat them.

vegan-symbol

These reviews are particularly geared towards former omni eaters who are keen to have that meat or dairy favourite available as a tasty cruelty-free equivalent.

Ratings are for what I consider the important elements of an appealing food product, with “Texture” being one that you might not normally see for other food reviews, but to me it is quite indicative of the success of a meat or dairy substitute. I choose “Value” over “Price” as vegan foods are generally more expensive than their meat or dairy counterparts (or rather, the latter are unreasonably and irrationally cheap given what they are) so I choose to focus on how good they are for the amount you pay.

On to today’s reviews:


PRODUCT: UPTON’S NATURALS – MASSAMAN CURRY
Type: Prepared meal
Country of origin: USA
Upton’s Naturals

overall-5
flavourrating-5
texturerating-5
valuerating-3

massamancurry_0.pngI have seen Upton’s moustached men gracing their product boxes on grocery shelves for a couple of years now, but was only just made aware that this Chicago-based brand has been around since 2006. Their website shows off an impressive and mouthwatering array of products, many of which we still don’t get here in Australia (I’m looking at the seitan chorizo and mentally willing someone to distribute that here!) I did, however, note that this particular one that I am reviewing – the Massaman Curry – is a “Product of Thailand” so I’m afraid to ask if the ingredients are sourced in Thailand, shipped to America to prepare and then shipped to Australia for us, meaning there’s a whopping 25,000+ kms of fossil fuels attached to this item. Eeek!

Pushing that aside for the moment, their local distributor has just started importing the Massaman and I have to say, it is bloody delicious. There is a slightly enhanced zestiness to it that I wouldn’t say is my vision of a typical “massaman”, but it doesn’t matter because the plate is empty before you’ve had long to critique that point. Rich with flavour, crisp and fresh-tasting veggies, firm and flavourful tofu – it really was a satisfyingly delish meal.

The meal comes in microwave-ready vacuum-sealed plastic pouches, with separate purple rice, curry and crushed peanuts. My only peeve is that the package says it is “2 serves” which is quite wrong. It is only a 280g/480Cal packet and the serve that I heated up was smaller than my usual single-serve of curry (and I don’t eat exceptionally large serves by any means). It is really just a light lunch size but not a dinner for 2 or “I’m rather hungry” size. Because of this, the $9 price point is a bit steep for what it is. It may well be more expensive due to importing from the US (but then I do see it at US online retailers for US$6 so that’s comparable). I could understand the seitan or jackfruit or other specialty “meats” being a bit pricer, but non-organic tofu, rice and veg shouldn’t jack up the price that much.

Overall, a great choice for a guaranteed delicious meal, though not 100% “massaman-ish” and a bit pricey for the size you get.

 


PRODUCT: NUTTY BRUCE
Type: Nut milk
Country of origin: Australia
drinkbruce.com

overall-5
flavourrating-5
texturerating-5
valuerating-4

nutty-bruce-coconut-almond-milk-2d-clipped-png-web-re-size-e1541133829246.png

Far and away the best nut milk I’ve come across to date. It is pleasantly creamy and not watery like so many long-life almond milks (probably due to having 2-3 times as much almond and coconut than other mylks). It only comes fresh (not in long-life tetra packs) so that might contribute to its more “lively” flavour too.

It is organic, has no thickeners, is slightly sweet (brown rice syrup) and is perfect for nearly everything I might have used dairy milk for in the past. When I go back to other almond milks, they taste limp and bland by comparison. Other coconut milks just taste like watered down coconut cream you’d use for cooking. It also doesn’t separate in tea or coffee like other organic milks I’ve had (I’m looking at you “Australia’s Own”).

Price-wise, it’s also the most expensive compared to any of the long-life milks. At normal non-sale price, they often sit at nearly double the price of others. Given that the others almost seem unpalatable now that I have had Bruce, it seems like good value, though it still adds up and I cringe a bit when I pile on 3L in the cart at over $17!

The brand is fun, it’s local and I love em! Yummmm!

 


PRODUCT: ALTERNATIVE DAIRY CO. – CHEDDAR BLOCK
Type: Non-dairy cheese
Country of origin: Australia
Alternative Dairy Co. (FB)

overall-4
flavourrating-4
texturerating-5
valuerating-4

22177_cheddar.jpgDairy cheese is a strange confection as it has a property which makes it congeal and go gooey, and for some reason we have found this to be appealing. I would be lying if I said that I am not attracted to this feature when it comes to pizza or lasagne or Mac n’ cheese, but it’s still a weird thing. So of course we want our dairy cheese substitute to have the same characteristics, but many vegan cheeses struggle to simulate this well.

As far as rating a vegan cheese, this is a semi-important feature in my book as it does bug me when you make a pizza or toastie and the cheese is in a semi-solidified state even after cooking for awhile and now it is at risk of burning.

Alt. Dairy Co. has found a happy place where their cheese has excellent texture, bold flavour without a dominant coconut oil taste and pleasant meltability. It is still just cheddar, but you wouldn’t feel embarrassed to serve it to your bovine-breast milk-loving friends. High snackability on crackers or straight off the block. The feature that bolder flavoured non-dairy cheeses I’ve had might be the potato starch which I think might be the secret agent to making good faux cheese. Another favourite brand of mine, Vegusto, use potato in theirs and it is also delicious and not relying just on coconut oil to get by.

Overall, this is a great effort from a local company who are just starting to make headway with their brand. I look forward to trying more of their offerings!

 


 

Defeating my cravings

Yum!! No, no...naughty...

No matter how much great-tasting healthy food I eat, I never crave it like I crave junk food: chocolate, hot chips, ice cream, potato/corn chips. Why does stuff that tastes so good have to be bad for you?? (I know there are healthier versions of all these items, but I don’t crave those versions either!) Naturally, you don’t have to be a health-food Nazi to live simply, but I suppose as you start living ethically, all these things follow suit as it seems that so many of the companies that produce junk food are also unethical in their business practices (I wonder why this is? No really, I want to know why!).

I got a craving tonight for ice cream. I told myself that I could supplant this need with salt & vinegar chips if the ice cream was unattainable. It was 10:30pm. I had my car keys in hand and I thought “what are you doing? You don’t need this right now, at this time of night. And, all the companies who make what I want are evil!” I was so very right! Sitting down at the computer and looking online (ah, the Internet, how I love thee…), I found that my second ice cream choice, a McDonalds hot fudge sundae, comes from a company voted several times as the world’s most unethical company. From destroying rainforest to building farms for their cattle to illegally underpaying staff, they are a wasteful and shameful company from a respectable business point of view. I knew their food was fatty and unhealthy, but this will seal the deal for me never going there again.

My first ice cream choice, Streets’ Magnum series, I found listed in the great iPhone app “Shop Ethical!” which is a searchable database that tells you all about most food products sold in Australia and rates them for their ethical behavior. Streets is a Unilever subsidiary, and Unilever have a poor ethical score due to animal testing and human rights issues, and generally poor ethical practices, shameful for one of the largest companies in the world.

The backup plan of potato chips would have either come from Doritos (owned by Pepsico who sit near the bottom of several responsible shopping guides and ethiscores; though I could’ve gone with CC’s who get a decent score) or salt n’ vinegar ones from Smiths (also Pepsico; Samboy or Kettle would be ok). There are some alternatives to the unethical companies but you have to know who is owned by whom. For example, between the infamously dubious Nestlé, Mars and Kraft companies, there are hundreds of subsidiaries that you probably don’t realise have these irresponsible umbrella groups controlling them. When I was looking for dog food in Coles today, every single bag of dry food was owned under Mars & Nestlé even though there were all of: Purina, Lucky Dog, One, Beneful, Pedigree, Pal, Chum, My Dog, Good-o, Optimum and Supercoat. In addition to boycotting these companies, best to write the producers and suppliers and tell them what you think as it’s the only way they’ll know that we want some change to take place. I wrote Coles today to tell them this.

Anyway, at the end of it all, I safely convinced myself that I was doing the right thing by denying myself of these treats (which in itself is very good practice) and instead had some fresh bread dipped in balsamic vinegar & fresh, local olive oil. ‘Twas tasty for my tum too; better yet, it was tasty for my conscience! 🙂