Plant-based meat, burgers, mince, bacon and chicken put to the taste test

Plant-based meat products from imposter beef to fake bacon and faux chicken.
Plant-based meat products from imposter beef to fake bacon and faux chicken. Photo: James Brickwood

If you've ever been curious about meat alternatives, now's the time to dive in. But how do they stack up?

By the time you finish reading this sentence, it's entirely possible another 20 plant-based meat alternatives will have made their market debut. Coles and Woolworths can't seem to stock enough of the stuff, and the retail giants' meat sections are expanding with all manner of imposter beef, fake bacon and faux chicken. (Not to mention all that cashew cheese and nut milk in the next aisle.)

To help cut through the saturated fat, Good Food tasted a range of nationally available vegan meat alternatives and scored each for taste and texture. Points were also allocated for the product's similarity to the meat it was trying to replicate, however environmental footprint and nutritional profile were not taken into account for the final score. (Read this story for more information about these factors.)

Each item was cooked as per packet instructions, but also tasted on a sandwich, in ragu or stir-fried, depending on its purpose in life.

Bacon

Funfed - Boar Free Bacon.

Photo: James Brickwood

Sunfed Boar Free Bacon, 120g, $6.50

Score: 1.5/5

These craggy strips foam and blister in a hot pan like real-deal bacon but unfortunately taste like overcooked peas. The crisp texture isn't too bad on a burger if you have enough sauce to mask the flavours. Made in New Zealand.

Next! Bacon Style Strips (left) and Vegie Delights Bacon Style Rashers.

Next! Bacon Style Strips (left) and Vegie Delights Bacon Style Rashers. Photo: James Brickwood

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Next! Bacon Style Strips, 200g, $9

Score: 3/5
​Good Food Taste Test Awards Bronze*

Aggressively seasoned and smacking of chicken salt, this was the best-tasting imitation bacon product tested. With square corners and lines of ivory "fat", the rashers look like those plastic meat toys toddlers play with. Made in Taiwan.

Vegie Delights Bacon Style Rashers, 150g, $6

Score: 2/5

Tapioca starch, cultured dextrose and potassium chloride work hard to replicate the real thing. These look and taste like sliced Spam but, crisped up nicely, will add texture to a sandwich. Made in Australia from at least 58 per cent Australian ingredients.

Burgers

Good Food - Fake Meats. Photographed 15th June 2021. Beyond Meat - Beyond Burger. Photograph by James Brickwood. SMH GOOD FOOD 210615

Photo: James Brickwood

Beyond Meat Beyond Burger, 226g, $11

Score: 4/5
Good Food Taste Test Awards Silver*

Billions spent on product development pays off. At $5.50 each, these burgers closely resemble their beef-based counterparts although more seasoning is needed, so salt before cooking. There's a pleasant fattiness but a chewy texture rules out more points. Made in the US.

Good Food - Fake Meats. Photographed 15th June 2021. V2 Burger. Photograph by James Brickwood. SMH GOOD FOOD 210615

Photo: James Brickwood

V2 Burger, 452g, $8

Score: 3.5/5
Good Food Taste Test Awards Bronze*

At a third of the price of Beyond Burger, these patties have 4.5 health stars and a Vegemite-ish aftertaste. More salt is needed, but they do a fine job bolstering sauce and cheese on a bun. Made in Australia from at least 65 per cent Australian ingredients.

Good Food - Fake Meats. Photographed 15th June 2021. Moving Mountains Burger. Photograph by James Brickwood. SMH GOOD FOOD 210615

Photo: James Brickwood

Moving Mountains Burger, 220g, $4

Score: 1.5/5

No thank you. More like an egg-and-breadcrumb-bound rissole than a burger, but with a rubbery texture. At the risk of sounding like a broken record with hypertension, these mushroom and soy-based patties also need more salt. Made in the Netherlands.

Mince and braised beef

Good Food - Fake Meats. Photographed 15th June 2021.  Naturli Pea-Based Minced. Photograph by James Brickwood. SMH GOOD FOOD 210615. Low res online-only

Photo: James Brickwood

Naturli Pea-Based Minced, 400g, $8.40

Score: 3/5

A pinkish colouring helps Minced look quite close to beef. Rather than turning to rubble in the pan when cooking, however, the squiggly mince worms stubbornly hold their shape. Better for meatballs than chilli con carne, then. Made in Denmark.

Good Food - Fake Meats. Photographed 15th June 2021.  V2 Mince. Photograph by James Brickwood. SMH GOOD FOOD 210615

Photo: James Brickwood

V2 Mince, 400g, $6.50

Score: 3.5/5
Good Food Taste Test Awards Bronze*

No. 1 for texture but the taste is nothing to get excited about. Arguably, the texture of plant-based mince is more important than its taste, considering the stuff will be spiced and sauced. Made in Australia from at least 65 per cent Australian ingredients.

Fable Premium Plant Based Braised Beef, 250g, $7.50

Score: 2.5/5

According to chef Heston Blumenthal, whose face is on the packet of this shiitake mushroom-based creation, Fable's beef substitute is "delicious" and "versatile". We think "airplane stroganoff " is a better description. Okay in a slow-cooked ragu or taco mix. Made in Malaysia.

Chicken

Good Food - Fake Meats. Photographed 15th June 2021. Plantein - Plant Based Schnitzels. Photograph by James Brickwood. SMH GOOD FOOD 210615

Photo: James Brickwood

Plantein Plant-Based Schnitzels, 300g, $7.50

Score: 2.5/5

Of all alternatives tried, this tasted most like "the real thing". It's just a shame that thing is a cut-price bit of crumbed processed chook, rather than a juicy, panko-covered schnitzel from a good pub. Made in Australia from at least 79 per cent Australian ingredients.

Good Food - Fake Meats. Photographed 15th June 2021. The Alternative Meat Co. The Alternative Crumbed Burger. Photograph by James Brickwood. SMH GOOD FOOD 210615

Photo: James Brickwood

The Alternative Meat Co. Plant-Based Chicken Burger, 220g, $7

Score: 2.5/5

Balanced seasoning – hallelujah! – but dense and uncannily similar to school-canteen chicken burgers I recall from the '80s. Made in Australia from at least 70 per cent Australian ingredients.

Meet Tenders, 250g, $7

Score: 3/5

Similar in texture to chicken but could be juicier. Its dull cardboard-y taste can be masked in a stir-fry, the dish these bits seem engineered for. Maybe just add more vegies to your wok instead? Made in Australia from at least 70 per cent Australian ingredients.

How good is it?

The packaging of meat-free meats is invariably slapped with health claims and nutritional highlights. But this spin can make it difficult to identify which products are actually healthy.

"Not all plant-based meat alternatives are created equal," says Nicole Dynan, founder of dietitian service The Good Nutrition Company and spokesperson for Dietitians Australia. "Consumers need to read nutrition labels, or at least refer to the health star rating on packaging, to ensure they are making a good choice."

Dynan recommends looking at the following areas of a meat-alternative's nutrition label:

  • The energy value of the serving size you plan to eat. The kilojoule count for a satisfying meal is anything from 1500kJ to 2500kJ, says Dynan. "Consider what else you may eat with that meal – a bun with the burger, say."
  • A good level of protein per meal is 20 to 25g. Does the serving size come close to this?
  • Total fat: less than 10g per 100g. Saturated fat should be less than one third of that total fat.
  • Sugars: less than 15g per 100g.
  • Sodium: 120mg per 100g or less.
  • Fibre: more than 3g per 100g, but 5g is better.

Dynan notes that the Plantein schnitzel contains 914mg of sodium per serve. "That's almost half of the daily [recommended] intake. Add sauce and you bust your sodium quota in one meal."

Also, some products contain coconut oil, which contributes to their saturated fat content. "Fable braised beef has 22.6g of saturated fat per serve," she says pointing out the recommended daily limit is 24g based on an energy intake of 8700kJ.

"If your goal isn't just to reduce your meat intake but to also increase your plant intake, you're better off eating a burger made from chickpeas and vegies, or a lentil bolognese."

*Good Food Taste Test Awards: Gold score 4.5/5; Silver score 4/5; Bronze score 3.5/5