Doesn't my brunch sandwich look tasty? It's Sonoma Chick'n Salad topped with micro greens sitting on smashed avocado, roasted tomato with rosemary, sea salt and red onions, and a flourless 7-Sprouted Grain english muffin slathered with soy-free buttery spread.
And btw, the chick'n is made from plants. In fact, the entire sandwich is made from plants including the creamy looking mayonaise in the chicken salad.
There has been much buzz about Beyond Meat's new plant-based Veggie Chicken Strips, but what caught my attention was the fact that two of the investors backing Beyond Meat are techies: Obvious Corporation, the guys who created Twitter, and venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield Byers.
I find it oddly exciting when my two worlds, healthy eating and tech, collide. So, of course, I had to run out and try the stuff. Note: Beyond Meat did not contact me nor am I being paid to write this. I bought the products myself because I was dying of curiousity.
Currently (and this can change daily), Beyond Meat's Veggie Chicken Strips are available in Roots Market in Maryland, at Source restaurant in San Francisco, and Northern California Whole Foods stores in the prepared food section. More availability will happen over the coming months. At Whole Foods, I found the BY veggie chicken used in three different chicken salads: Vegan Curry Chick'n Salad, Vegan Sonoma Chick'n Salad, and Vegan Tarragon Chick'n Salad. These three recipes are Whole Foods signature chicken salads so it makes sense that WF would make vegan versions using Beyond Meat's veggie chicken.
Of the three salads, I liked the Vegan Curry Chick'n the best because I like the flavoring and use of almonds, dried currants, and mango chutney. I put the chick'n salad on top of a bed of arugula and micro greens. For summer flair, I sprinkled on diced cherries, and to make the salad look even more dairy-free amazing, I used crumbled Daiya Jack Wedge cheese which looks like feta crumbles. Looks pretty huh?!
Let's start with texture.
In this Fast Company Co.EXIST article Biz Stone of Obvious Corp stated that, "For people who are actually repulsed by meat, they’re not going to like this. It’s just too real-tasting. But for anyone who craves the flavor and feel of meat, this might be the first legitimate substitute."
I stopped eating chicken two years ago because one day I woke up and my body decided it was just repulsed by chicken. I can eat any other animal meat except chicken. I literally start to feel nauseous if chicken gets within two inches of my mouth. I know it's weird but I honor my body's needs. I only mention this because after reading what Biz said, I was curious how my body would react to this "real-tasting" plant-based chicken. Happy to say that there was no nausea, and the stomach had no issues.
First, I had to play with the BY veggie chicken and was surprised how it shreds almost exactly like real chicken. The designer in me was like, "How did they mimic the shredding?" I've tried all kinds of plant-based meat and have never seen anything this close to real chicken shredding.
In fact, here are pieces of the BY veggie chicken next to real chicken pieces. At a quick glance, it's hard to tell which is which. The biggest piece of shredded chicken at the top of the pic off to the left next to the onions is real chicken. The shredded piece sitting directly to the right of the real chicken piece below the pecan is the BY veggie chicken. It's pretty darn close looking.
Now, let's get to the taste.
On its own, Brown’s “chicken” — produced to mimic boneless, skinless breast — looks like a decent imitation, and the way it shreds is amazing. It doesn’t taste much like chicken, but since most white meat chicken doesn’t taste like much anyway, that’s hardly a problem; both are about texture, chew and the ingredients you put on them or combine with them. When you take Brown’s product, cut it up and combine it with, say, chopped tomato and lettuce and mayonnaise with some seasoning in it, and wrap it in a burrito, 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."
In general, I value Mark Bittman's opinion and we both whole-heartedly agree about the shredding but in the case of people not knowing the difference between the BY veggie chicken and real chicken when it's combined with other fixings, I'm going to respectfully disagree.
Beyond Meat has definitely risen the bar but it's not at a level yet to fool meat eaters or create a "just as good" as chicken experience. I say this as someone who has to eat food alternatives on a daily basis because of food allergies, sensitivities, and a desire to maintain an optimal level of healthiness. I love animals and the planet, and am consicous of supporting more kind foods, but my food choices are driven more by health reasons. I eat mostly plants, but sometimes my body screams for meat, so I listen which is why 80/20 plant-based eating works for me.
I get that companies like Beyond Meat and other plant-based meat producers are not trying to fool consumers but are attempting to create a new category of animal-free protein foods. However, the real test for mass adoption beyond vegan, vegetarian, and special diets will still come down to whether meat eaters will embrace the taste and texture experience of these plant-based meats, and plunk down their money for it, on a regular basis.
You saw my two beautiful creations I made with the Whole Foods BY veggie chicken salads which were loaded with flavorings and paired with vibrant delicious foods like these roasted tomatoes with rosemary and red onion. At first bite, I could tell right away these chicken salads were not made with real chicken. There were two tells.
First tell, there is still that rubbery-ness that mock meats have. In the BY veggie chicken, the rubbery-ness is minimal compared to other mock meats I've tried but it's still there. When I lived in Phoenix, I've eaten The Secret BBQ Chicken Sandwich at Green New Amercian Vegetarian reastaurant which PETA named the #1 Top Faux-Chicken Sandwich in the U.S. Now, I don't know what plant-based chicken Green uses but that sandwich could fool meat eaters. It's really good! I would be curious to see how Green's sandwich would taste using the new BY veggie chicken.
The second tell, the BY veggie chicken has this slight unique after taste. It's very subtle but it's a giveaway that this is not real chicken or that maybe something is wrong with your food. I can't even describe this after taste because I've never experienced it before, but it's consistently there in the various Whole Foods salads. My guess is that it's the combination of soy and pea protein the BY veggie chicken is made from. The after taste was the part of this BY veggie chicken experience I did not care for.
Beyond Meat is coming out next with a beef crumble that uses pea protein and is soy-free. Now, I'm excited to try that meat and will be asking, "Where's the beef?" I'm a fan of pea protein, and thrilled to see that Beyond Meat is making foods that people who are allergic or sensitive to soy can eat.
Overall, what Beyond Meat has done with their new Veggie Chicken Strips is impressive. They need to work on the after-taste and rubbery-ness but they have taken plant-based meat to a new level much like what Daiya did with cheese.
When Daiya first came out, I thought their cheeses were gross. But Daiya has gotten better over the years, and I LOVE their new wedge line. Remember my awesome Grilled Cheese sandiwch with Daiya Havarti, Roasted Tomato, Garlic, and Basil on Pumpkin Sage Boulot. So, I have high hopes that Beyond Meat will get better as the product matures, and more customer feedback comes in.
I'm also thrilled that the Beyond Meat veggie chicken is gluten-free and GMO-free! Companies like Beyond Meat, Daiya, and So Delicious are making so much innovative headway in creating animal-free and allergen-free foods so that people like me and millions others can enjoy a variety of foods like everyone else.
Currently, at it's launch in Whole Foods, the biggest road block to consumers gobbling up Beyond Meat is the cost. The Whole Foods BY veggie chicken salads are $13.99/lb. Yes, yikes!
You know Whole Foods is a love of my life and I have no issue paying premium but even for me, that's hurting the wallet and deserving of being called whole paycheck. Beyond Meat veggie chicken is worth a try but it's not a weekly staple at $13.99/lb in a pre-made salad. I would expect that as Beyond Meat ramps production, the cost will eventually come down, and they will start offering packaged chicken strips so we consumers will be free to make whatever we want with it.
Have you tried Beyond Meat's new Veggie Chicken? What did you think, and what dish did you eat it in?