Kelli Brett cooks alternative meats alongside the real deal for three intrepid taste testers…

Meatless Chicken Nuggets, Beef Style Breakfast Sausages, Veggie Burgers, Smart Dogs, Meat-free Grounds, Fishless Fish Filets, Boar Free Bacon, Tofurky… our shelves are stacked with products that target a growing number of consumers in search of meat-free options. As our food journalist David Burton has pursued the alternative meat conversation for you in this issue of Cuisine, I thought we might try to answer the ultimate question for you when talking plant-based or alternative-meat options: what does it taste like?

We gathered three curious supermarket shoppers for a blind tasting. Taste Tester 1 is vegetarian, Taste Tester 2 is an avid meat eater and Taste Tester 3 is flexitarian. They sampled two, readily accessible alternative-meat performers and one fish product, alongside a supermarket own-brand real meat/fish option within the following categories: bacon, chicken, sausages, burgers and fish.

As in life, opinions differed. As the person on the frying pan, one thing that struck me was the way in which the plant-based products reacted in the pan or oven. It felt like the attempts to replace animal fats led to some strange smells and textures within some of the products. But what seems odd to me as a confirmed flexitarian might be completely normal to someone who has never cooked with real meat proteins. Whichever side of the protein fence you may sit on, it is clear that the alternative-meat category is gaining ground and needs to be included in our food conversation. Will you turn to the Impossible or Beyond Meat Burger? Or will you just go and fry up a big meaty portobello mushroom and throw it into your burger bun instead?

Is it right that the maker of a sausage – no matter what the filling – neglects to tell you what its casing is made from? Interestingly, we had all expected that fish would be the hardest protein to replicate and the fishless fish fillets were polarising. As technology improves, the plant-based seafood segment is moving far beyond the typical soy- and corn-based substitutions to offer seafood lovers an opportunity to indulge in prawns, scallops and other alternative seafood options. Allergies to shellfish may no longer prohibit the indulgence of a seafood paella! But can we call it a seafood paella if it is not really seafood?

With much more tasting and conversation to be had, I encourage you to keep an open mind and open eyes. In other words, read the labels… ■

'Meatless meat is on the rise – David Burton digs deep into the popularity of plant-based alternative meat.'