*Product Review*: Vegan Toona!

Tuna — a saltwater fish that is part of the mackerel family. The size of the fish can range, depending on the specific type. Are those quick, fun facts what come to your mind when you hear the word “tuna”? Yeah, me either. When we hear that word, most of us think of the minced flesh that comes in a can. But even that description may be off-putting to some– well, by some, I mean non-vegans. Because, like any sentient being, that minced mush in a can is indeed flesh.

Before going vegan, like a lot of non-vegans, I tried to eat more tuna and seafood on my initial route to health. Sea creatures do not usually contain large amounts of fat and most people view eating them as healthy– in fact, many people go pescatarian before going full-vegan. Or, they just stop there.

I was a big fan of canned tuna in my pre-vegan days. But thinking back on it now, filling a sandwich with tuna that is loaded with mayo isn’t necessarily #healthgoals. Either way, I hadn’t had tuna in about two years– that is, I hadn’t had any form of a vegan variation since going vegan. Until recently 🙂

Vegan tuna in all it’s canned glory.

First, a bit of the back story; when I was still in my exploratory vegan days (although those days don’t ever truly end, do they?) I happened to find some mock vegan tuna as part of a vegan “starter kit” online. I bought the kit (this was over a year ago), and I tossed the tuna in the cabinet because– well, that’s me. I was excited to try it, but wanted to “wait” to showcase it for whatever weird reason. I recently cleaned out the cabinets and saw that lonely lil’ can in the back, still unused. First, I thought about why I was so weird to wait to use this canned baby for so long (yes, really), then, I made a tuna sandwich!

The canned tuna I had was made by a brand called Sophie’s Kitchen. They make plant-based seafood which is amazing, because I love seeing plant-based seafood all over Vegan IG. I hope to try a lot more of their products in the future, but for now, I’m also trying to calm down on the processed goods, so it’ll have to wait. But check them out and see what they have to offer!

Now, for the nitty gritty– how did it taste? What was the flavor like? The texture?

Before I get to all those deets, I have to preface this with saying that anything that is vegan (with the exception of the amazing things they’re doing with the Impossible and Beyond Burgers as well as some seitan-based chick’n sandwiches) is usually never going to be an exact replica of what you were used to eating on an omni diet. You have to learn to adapt your palate a bit, as well as relish in the fact that something that is reallly close to what you used to eat (especially if you prepare it the same way) is still really delicious, and now, cruelty-free.

That being said, visually, I was pleasantly surprised. It actually looked like canned tuna. Not a carbon copy, but it could fool an omni, for sure. It was packed in olive oil, which was refreshing because actual tuna packed in oil is usually packed in vegetable oil, and I always thought that was weird because veggie oil seems more appropriate for cooking and not packing. It fell apart in chunks, and just looking at, I was a happy camper.

That black shadow in the back– Trey thought he was getting some toona too. Yeah, right.

Texture-wise, I was also happy. It felt like what I was used to eating when I ate a tuna fish sandwich! But then, is it truly that hard to replicate a minced meat texture? Something to think about! It was a little bit heavier, but not overly so.

The flavor was kinda scary. I know about some products, like kelp granules, that help to mimic that seafood flavor. And although this didn’t taste exactly like tuna fish, that seafood-y flavor was definitely there. It mixed well when I added other ingredients and mayo to it, and once all that was mixed together, it legit looked like meaty tuna.

All the flavor, none of the cruelty.

As I just mentioned, when eaten on it’s own (I took a few bites before adding anything else), it was a bit heavier in my mouth–not like a fully light seafood feel. That could have been because of the pea protein and/or potato starch bases I’m assuming, because that is what this mock delicious-ness is mostly made of.

So, at the end of it all, I’d definitely give this canned delight a 8/10 and I would hands down purchase it again. I think for transitioning vegans, it might take a bit before they feel comfty mixing it plain into a salad or eating it out of the can. For me, two years in, I’d gobble the can down plain– eh, I might add a little salt and pepper.

But for transitioning vegans looking for that comfort food feel of a delicious “tuna” fish sandwich slathered in mayo on bread– just imagine, you could be eating this, completely cruelty-free:

*Product Review*: The Impossible Burger

So, I finally tried the Impossible Burger. I say that with a tinge of guilt because there is some debate within the vegan community as to whether or not this burger is a legit plant-based meat substitute. Not because of the way it tastes, but because of how it’s been created.

So, before I get to the review, let’s start from the beginning…

Impossible Foods launched back in 2016, revolutionizing the vegan food market with the Impossible Burger— a plant-based burger made with their exclusive, primary ingredient, soy leghemoglobin. Supposedly, this burger looked, tasted and felt like the “real” thing — or what omnivores know to be a burger when it is comprised of beef derived from cows. It was a hit– all over vegan Instagram were pictures of the vegan bleeding burger. What was responsible for that redness that made it look like you had a medium to medium-well burger on your plate? You guessed it; that key ingredient of soy leghemoglobin.

This isn’t an Impossible Burger– but the Impossible is pretty dang close. Now, you can have your burger juicy, meaty and cruelty-free.

Sound great so far?

Well, it almost was until it was revealed that Impossible Foods had conducted animal testing using lab rats to create this phenomenal new burger.

What?!?

Why would they need to conduct animal testing to create a vegan burger? And doesn’t that go against the values of the vegan community? Like not harming animals? And being cruelty-free?

Good point. Yes. Yes. And yes.

To answer everything inquiring minds wanted to know (myself included), the CEO of Impossible Foods released an official statement for the company entitled The Agonizing Dilemma of Animal Testing. The statement explained (in part) that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has specific requirements when it comes to “uncommon ingredients” getting the stamp of approval for human consumption. Impossible Foods’ exclusive heme protein, soy leghemoglobin, was indeed considered an uncommon ingredient. To meet the rigorous requirements of the FDA, Impossible Foods decided that they would conduct experiments using animal testing to ensure the FDA that the protein was safe for humans to eat.


“The billions of people around the world who love meat and fish and dairy foods will not be persuaded to stop consuming these foods by pleading or arguing or encouraging them to try a plant-based diet.”

Pat Brown, The Agonizing Dilemma of Animal Testing

I highly suggest reading the statement (linked in the previous paragraph) because if you read it with an open mind, and more importantly, an open heart, you may see the bigger picture that Pat Brown, the CEO of Impossible Foods, likely has. According to Brown, heme, an iron-containing compound that gives beef that distinct taste and flavor is essential to creating meat substitutes because omnivores crave that taste and flavor. This is an argument I am totally here for because one of my motivating factors as a plant-based recipe developer is that flavors and seasoning and texture are what we are really looking for when we eat our food — we don’t need animal flesh to get that stuff! In addition to their mission to recreate beef flavors in plant-based burgers, Impossible Foods does purposely and specifically seek to change the way omnivores look at vegan food. According to a rep for the company at the recent Natural Foods Expo West convention in California, Impossible Foods’ audience is a “meat-eater” and so they “target first and foremost” just that… meat-eaters.1

Initially, when I discovered the animal testing scandal, I was totally anti-Impossible. I hadn’t tried the burger yet and I didn’t plan on doing so. I even messaged a popular vegan chef when I saw him partaking of an Impossible burger in one of his stories, essentially asking him if he thought it was an ethically okay choice to consume that burger given the animal testing. He ignored me. And I’m glad he did. And by the way, if that vegan chef ever happens to read this and you remember me messaging you about your burger, I’m sorry I bothered you but I was very much in my feelings about that lab testing. I’ve since reconciled our relationship, and at this point, my views on the matter have shifted– quite a bit actually.

Hopefully, animal testing in labs because of FDA restrictions will one day be a thing of the past.

Similar to a point I made in my last blog post about boycotting businesses that don’t meet many of our ethical and moral vegan standards, the same idea applies here. I now feel we have to look at the bigger picture and fight for the greater good. Sometimes we have to make small sacrifices to achieve astronomical results. Losing the life of a few to save the lives of hundreds of thousands is still a difficult choice, but it’s one that does show hope and progress toward a place that is so much better than the one we are in now. Impossible Foods is working toward a vegan revolution, and I think all vegans can agree that this is definitely something we can get behind. This may not be everyone’s view but it’s where I stand, and judging by the success of the Impossible Burger, it’s the mindset of many other vegans as well.

With that, let’s get on to the review part! First, let me say that I’m a BIG burger fan. I’ve been obsessed with burgers since I was a kid, so trying the many vegan versions that exist has been intriguing but in the back of my mind, I always knew these burgers had large buns– I mean shoes, to fill. I know, I know– insert corny joke here.

I tried the Impossible Burger via the slider version that is being sold at White Castle. Wow. It’s good. It’s really good. Everything they promise is there: “meaty flavor” and texture are on point for sure. It would taste a lot better with some vegan cheese, but then again, what doesn’t taste better with cheese? But even without the cheese, it stands up to the challenge of recreating a great, flavorful burger that is cruelty-free. It’s also filling — I had my sliders with fries but tried to focus on eating the sliders first to get the flavor profile and see how it went down in my tummy. The pieces were grinding apart in my mouth the same way I remember ground beef doing, and it’s weird because while chewing, some parts reminded me of meat but then other times I could tell it wasn’t meat– but I’m unsure if the latter part was psychological and simply a byproduct of me knowing that I was, in fact, eating plants.

Impossible Burger sliders at White Castle– yup, they’re legit.

Honestly speaking, I believe this burger would hands down fool a hungry omnivore, however, it isn’t a doppelganger for beef. Upon closer inspection, you can definitely tell it’s a plant-based substitute. Personally, that doesn’t bother me one bit, and I know a lot of vegans actually prefer that, as a reminder of the dead and likely tortured animals they used to consume is not something they want on their plates. But again, the goal is to convert as many omnis as possible– and we have to bring them in with what they know to be familiar already.

I really want to try this in a bigger burger form, so I might even do a second part to this review when I get a chance to have another Impossible Burger. And now is the perfect time to do so, because in January of this year, Impossible Foods released the Impossible Burger 2.0— an updated, gluten-free version of the patty. I’m excited to try it and I’m looking forward to seeing what Impossible Foods will come up with next. Have you already tried the Impossible Burger? What did you think? Do you have an opinion on Impossible Foods conducting animal testing to get the green light on the burger? Let me know in the comments below!

References:

1 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nbf-Mz7-0mU (begins at 5:00; video courtesy of The Vegan Zombie)

https://vegnews.com/2017/8/impossible-foods-ceo-speaks-out-about-animal-testing

https://vegnews.com/2019/1/impossible-foods-unveils-impossible-burger-20

https://impossiblefoods.app.box.com/s/27skctwxb3jbyu7dxqfnxa3srji2jevv

Burger and fries image courtesy of Engin Akyurt via Pexels.com

Lab image courtesy of Pixababy via Pexels.com

*Product Review*: Daiya Boxed Mac ‘n’ Cheeze

Macaroni and cheese is definitely up there when it comes to foods I love to eat. I wouldn’t necessarily call it one of my favorite foods in general, but it is absolutely in an even more specific category: one of my favorite holiday foods. When Thanksgiving and Christmas roll around, I am not a happy camper if I don’t have some mac on my plate. And to take it a step further, culturally speaking, I’m used to a very specific type of mac and cheese. B A K E D. African-American households are no strangers to mac and cheese, and to offer us anything other than a tray of baked mac might get you some funny looks (or even a few unkind words), especially at a holiday meal. All the nostalgic memories come flying back to my head of my mom taking the elbow macaroni noodles and tossing them in a huge bowl with tons of cheese and seasoning and them placing it in a few deep dish pans, then, popping them in the oven (with more cheese slathered on top!) for almost an hour — one of the most hunger-inducing hours ever, with the result being a crunchy, soft, smooth, cheesy masterpiece being revealed as part of the rest of the dinner feast.

When you have memories of homemade mac and cheese being as insanely good as I do, it’s kind of hard imagining a ready-made style, boxed mac and cheese that you don’t even bake could be as good as anything I’ve just described. Well, that’s not entirely true. Because there’s one brand of boxed mac and cheese that has stood the test of time. It’s from that really popular brand that we all know– it starts with a “K” and I have many memories of seeing their commercials on TV as a kid. They promoted the heck out of that boxed mac. And it worked because I know it was a popular product for kids across America– maybe even a staple in their childhood diets. It’s also a staple in the poor college student’s diet, the can’t be bothered to cook bachelor’s diet, and maybe even sometimes the single woman in the city’s (or country?) diet. But believe it or not, I’ve only had that mac and cheese maybe twice in my whole life. Pre-vegan of course. And I am not unhappy about it, because even before I had the more refined foodie palate I currently have, I always knew that homemade baked mac was where it’s at.

Then I became vegan. And I started learning about the world of supermarket vegan food. Not the fresh, whole foods I love talking about on this blog and on my Instagram, but the fast-growing variety of ready-made, easily prepped, frozen, and packaged convenience vegan foods. Most long-term vegans are in awe of the products they see today, because several years ago, most of these easy-to-make products didn’t exist yet! But being vegan today has never been so easy. Even though it may not be the healthiest way to live, if you can’t cook or don’t want to cook, there’s still no excuse for you to harm animals or the planet for your meal when you can stock your cabinets and freezer with tons of microwavable and ready-made vegan options (you also don’t have to do much cooking on a vegan diet that’s based in mostly whole foods but that’s another blog post for another time!). And you also don’t have to give up childhood favorites like ready-made mac and cheese!

That’s where Daiya’s Deluxe Cheddar Style Cheezy Mac comes in. This boxed, quick mac IMG_8285and cheeze is prepared like any other quick macaroni with cheeze sauce product: you boil the noodles, drain them, then add the cheeze sauce. And within minutes you have a hearty, cheezy pasta dish to have alone or to accompany the rest of your meal. So why am I doing a review on this product when several vegan options like it exist already? Well, there are a few reasons. Vegan cheese has come a looong way. I became vegan at the tail end of it’s growth, but I had already heard many of the rumors. Vegan cheese has sometimes gotten a bad rep. There’s been issues with it not melting easily. Issues with texture. And most importantly, there have been issues with taste and flavor. Some just aren’t feelin’ the flavor of vegan cheeses.

So when trying this product, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’ve tried Daiya‘s cream cheeze and I must admit, I wasn’t a fan. This was toward the beginning of my vegan journey and it wasn’t the best introduction into vegan cream cheese options. So I wondered if this cheeze sauce would follow suit with the cream cheeze debacle.

It absolutely did not.

Not only is this mac and cheeze amazing when it comes to flavor, but the texture is mind-blowing! The noods are basic elbow noodles. Oh, and it’s also worth mentioning that the noodles this mac comes with are gluten-free which is a plus for the gluten-free folks out there! But the cheeze brings in all the punch and glitz; it’s thick and creamy and there was actually an overabundance of the delicious saucy-goodness. The noodles were well-coated when I was only about 3/4 of the way through the sauce pack!

And let’s get more into the flavor. This cheeze sauce is SO similar to dairy-tasting cheese! If you are trying to ease into a vegan lifestyle (or get a non-vegan to try a vegan dish), this is perfect because your taste buds won’t know the difference! I can’t put enough emphasis on how much it tasted like the dairy-cheese I used to eat — it reminded me of hearing about folks on vegan Instagram complain that some meat substitutes tasted too

Daiya boxed mac components
Noodles + cheeze sauce = happy belly.

much like animal meat and it freaked them out. That was my experience here. This tasted so much like dairy cheese that it was a bit weird! But knowing that it wasn’t actually made from dairy was all the comfort I needed to continue to enjoy my mac. And again, the sauce is thick a.f! No need to worry about the sauce being too runny or not cheezy enough. There is also the perfect amount of saltiness to it. I jazzed mine up by adding some pepper to the finished product– if you check out the pic of my mac below, I also added some bacon to it because even as a vegan, I still believe that bacon makes everything better 🙂 But I didn’t add any salt because it didn’t need it! If you do add salt, do so sparingly– every palate is different so maybe you’ll think it needs some but enjoying it “as is” is perfect. And honestly, I’m considering trying my hand at baking this mac– with a few additions like some milk, shredded cheeze, and breadcrumbs, this can easily become a baked mac and cheeze masterpiece suitable for a spot on any holiday feast table. When I do bake it, I’ll be sure to update you all on how it went, and more importantly, how it tasted! 😀

So that’s it! If you’re looking to add a boxed food to your kitchen arsenal for quick meals or those times where you don’t feel like cooking (or don’t have the time to cook a more elaborate meal). Or if you actually just prefer to eat mac and cheeze that isn’t baked, or boxed mac because it brings back some childhood nostalgia, you need to get this product! I know there are a few other vegan boxed mac and cheeze’s out there– although I haven’t tried them yet, that won’t take away from how good this Daiya one is. Maybe I’ll do a taste test on a few of them down the line. But comparing to the taste, texture, ease of preparation, and overall deliciousness of this Daiya mac is not gonna be easy. Thanks for keeping us vegans going strong Daiya!

Daiya boxed mac closeup
Daiya boxed mac. Cheesy goodness with bacon crumbles on top. Yes, please.

*Product Review*: The Beyond Meat Burger is BEYOND Amazing!

So, I’m a little weird– or at least my eating habits can be. When I used to eat what I considered to be “unhealthy” foods, I had a very limited diet. I didn’t eat a diverse array of foods at all; instead I ate large amounts of the bad foods with limited variety. If you check out my recipe for broccoli in garlic sauce, you’ll see in the blurb before the recipe where I mention that dish was one of the few I got from Chinese takeout. Actually, it was probably 1 of 3 dishes I ever got. Well, another familiar food was burgers. Burgers were practically the only thing I got when I went out to eat with my parents as a kid. Seriously, ask them. No matter what type of restaurant it was, if they had burgers, I got a burger– with fries. Specialty burgers, plain Jane cheeseburgers, but always a burger.

Now, fast forward years later– I eat relatively healthy now, and I eat a huge variety of foods with all types of preparation–not just sautéed veggies — although I eat a lot of (sautéed) veggies these days — but all sorts fried stuff, baked stuff, stuff I’m still not sure how to pronounce (is it SAY-TAN, SEE-TAN, or SAY-TON??), and international fare. The past me would fall over dead if it saw the future me, like “who are you and where is your burger?!”

Of course, in my limited vegan world knowledge, I didn’t know what to expect when it came to foods like burgers. I never stopped loving them– even before going vegan I started eating healthier, and for me, that included eating a lot less meat, but I always loved a good burger every now and then.

But in my vegan exploratory stage (which is still happening actually), I discovered the amazing company Beyond Meat. Then, I discovered the Beyond Meat burger. Then, I discovered true happiness. Okay, I’m slightly exaggerating, but seriously, I finally got my hands on some Beyond Meat burgers, which started being sold to the public in May 2016.

Beyond Burger Instagram Screenshot
Screenshot from my Instagram story showcasing the excitement that Homer and I shared over these burgers!

It’s 100% plant-based protein, has under 300 calories in one 1/4 pound patty, and contains no soy or GMO’s. It also has (drum-roll please!) 30% of the daily recommended value of Iron! The only downside is it does have a lot of fat– probably as much as a beef burger patty– but a full-fat burger is an indulgence that is completely allowed. And anyway, I rather my fat come from plants than cows.

Grill pan
The aftermath– the grill pan I cooked the burgers in!

But maybe its the fat that adds to the flavor. The amazing flavor of these burgers is insane! I don’t really like comparing vegan items to meat– I can’t speak for all vegans, but the only reason I do it is to try to convince meat-eaters that they won’t be missing out on much if they ditch meat. But I really couldn’t tell the difference between this burger and some meat burgers I’ve eaten in the past. The flavor and texture are spot on.

Although I just had burgers on my birthday a few days ago, making these came about because I really wanted sweet potato fries– then that made me want burgers again. And I had forgotten that I bought these a couple of weeks ago anyway, and I never froze them so I didn’t want them to go bad. Its a good thing I had that sweet potato fries craving. But that’s another amazing thing about vegan food– being that everything is plant-based, it usually lasts a lot longer. Can you imagine forgetting about beef burgers in the fridge for over a week? The smell would probably remind you before you remembered!

But anyway, these were all good reasons to make burgers, so that’s what I did. I had them for dinner tonight and I literally could not contain my excitement– they were SO. FRICKIN. AMAZING. I used a grilling pan also, which I think added to the flavor, not to mention gave the patties some cool grill marks (see inset above). I am more excited everyday as I discover all of the food I am not missing out on because it exists in my new vegan world. In fact, I have yet to find food that can’t be “veganized”!

Scroll down to see awesome pics of the burger, which I served with sweet potato fries– not from scratch, but still delish.

A few deets on the burger: I seasoned them with a little bit of salt and pepper before grilling. Then, I decked them out with some kale, tomato, red onion, and coconut herb vegan cheese slices. The sauce is Organic Sriracha and Roasted Garlic BBQ sauce from, of course, Trader Joe’s.

And by the way, this cheese is so dope– I also used it in my roasted corn and fava bean salad.

PRO Tip: The buns I used were basic, store-brand, cheap (but vegan!) hamburger buns. But they look all glossy and brioche-like don’t they? All I did was smooth a tiny layer of olive oil over the top and threw them in a warm oven for about 3 minutes. I don’t know the exact temperature the oven was at because it was cooling down from the sweet potato fries, but it might have been about 300 degrees or so. After you take them out, not only are they a little toasty, but you get that glossy “egg-wash” effect on the top bun!

Beyond Meat burger II
So much burger-licious-ness.

 

Beyond Meat Burger I
The Beyond Meat burger in all its glory.