Take a tablespoon of soil fungus, ferment it, mix it with spices, then cover it in 96 layers of flaky, puff pastry.
A toddler’s science experiment? No, in fact this is part of the recipe for the latest non-meat version of one of Britain’s best-loved snacks.
High-street baker Greggs brought us a vegan steak bake last month, following the success of their vegan sausage roll, launched this time last year.
And, despite the unappealing recipe, we seem to love it. There were queues round the block in parts of Newcastle, and outrage when stock dwindled in Essex. Even life-long meat-lovers were converted, declaring it ‘delicious’ and ‘just like the real thing’.
The launch was perfectly timed with ‘veganuary’, during which some people ditch animal-derived foods – including dairy and eggs – as a New Year resolution.
Passionate pastry fans have gone wild online after Greggs unveiled their hotly anticipated Vegan Steak Bake, with the treat available in stores up-and-down the country from today
Roughly 350,000 Britons are taking up the challenge this year, more than ever before. The trend is likely to continue – just one per cent of the population is actually vegan, full-time, but surveys now suggest more than 60 per cent of Britons want to ‘cut down on meat’ for health reasons.
And food manufacturers are keen to keep up with demand. Figures released last week by analysts Mintel revealed that one in four new food products unveiled in 2019 was vegan. For instance, we saw the launch of vegan burgers that looked, smelled and even ‘bled’ like the real thing but were made from a blend of plant-extracted proteins.
The products are staggeringly popular: British burger chains, including Byron and Honest Burgers, struggle to keep up with demand for the Beyond Meat patties they serve. This month, Burger King launched its first plant-based burger in the UK – the Rebel Whopper – which, controversially, is not suitable for vegans or vegetarians, because it’s cooked beside meat.
But it’s not just burgers that are being tailored for vegans.
Greggs fans queued up outside bakeries in Newcastle last night to make sure they were the first to try their eagerly anticipated vegan steak bake
This month KFC debuted a vegan ‘chicken’ sandwich, and supermarket shelves heave with everything from sausages made from sea algae to ‘doner kebabs’ made of soya beans. Advocates claim such lab-made products are better for us, given research linking high meat consumption to cancer and obesity. But as a nutritional therapist, I worry about the large number of mostly unrecognisable ingredients in these highly processed foods.
The back of the packets read like science experiments – proteins extracted from wheat, soy and peas bound together with plant oils, thickeners and flavourings.
Can they really be healthier than the natural, meat equivalent? I decided to investigate, selecting a variety of vegan offerings and scoring each for health and taste to decide whether the vegan version won, or whether you’d be better off sticking to the original.
Greggs vegan steak bake
£1.55, available at most Greggs stores
Greggs vegan steak bake costs £1.55 and is available at most Greggs stores
Steak is replaced with diced pieces of Quorn – a protein source made from a nutritious fungus extracted from soil, which is then fermented. Onions and gravy are added, and butter is swapped for vegetable shortening in a light puff pastry. The Quorn is two grams lower in fat and contains 28 fewer calories than a meaty steak bake. But the lack of muscle-boosting protein is concerning – it is bound to lead to a mid-afternoon slump and snacking. Have a vegan steak bake for lunch and you’ll be under the 15 to 20g protein that experts recommend you eat at every meal. There’s also more than a third of the recommended daily salt intake in this. Switching doesn’t seem worth it.
A meat-loving friend said the vegan steak bake tasted ‘just as sinful’ as a regular steak bake, with the same deliciously flaky pastry and oozing filling. I felt the texture was thin – it sort of sank to the bottom end of the bake as you ate it – and slightly grainier than the meat equivalent, which may be offputting to some. The Quorn chunks themselves were quite bland. Despite this, I’m pretty sure few people will notice a difference between this and the meat version.
Moving Mountains Plant-Based Sausages
£3.90 for 228g, sainsburys.co.uk
NUTRITION* per sausage
Moving Mountains Plant-Based Sausages cost £3.90 for 228g and can be purchased from sainsburys.co.uk
From the company behind the UK’s first ‘bleeding’ burger (which oozes beetroot juice) comes a fake meat sausage that smells, looks and sizzles like the real thing. Instead of pork or beef, the bulk of the bratwurst comes from pea, soybean and wheat extracts, as well as oyster mushrooms, onion and beetroot. The traditional animal-sourced casing is replaced with an outer sheath of extracts of sea algae.
A plant-based sausage has roughly 12 more calories than a meat one, and much more fat than the traditional, pork Cumberland option.
But there’s roughly eight times more bowel-friendly fibre in the Moving Mountains version – more than you’ll find in a large apple.
Studies show that foods high in fibre take a while to get down the digestive tract, keeping you fuller for longer and, over time, reducing the risk of bowel cancer. I’ll award extra points for the high quantity of soya, too. The soya bean contains all the essential amino acids needed to make protein, which is a far better source than other alternatives.
SIMPLY delicious. The outside of the sausages crisped up like traditional bangers, and inside they looked just like pork. Packed full of punchy, meaty flavour. I fried these up for a room-full of guests, who could not believe their mouths.
KFC Original Recipe Vegan Burger
£3.99, available at most high-street KFC stores
KFC Original Recipe Vegan Burger costs £3.99 and is available at most high-street KFC stores
Here, the infamous ‘Colonel’s Original’ spice mix is rubbed over a fillet of Quorn – fermented fungi – instead of a chicken breast. It’s then coated in the same spiced batter and deep fried, before being topped with lettuce, vegan mayonnaise and sandwiched between a bun. Calories, fat content and sugar are roughly the same in both vegan and meat versions.
The vegan burger loses points when it comes to protein – there’s a third less here, making you susceptible to hunger pangs. To make matters worse, there’s a gram of extra salt – nearly half a tub of Pringles’ worth. That’s half the maximum daily salt limit in just one burger.
All tasters described the burger with the same one word – dry. However, the tasty, spiced batter effectively disguises the tough, flavourless Quorn, making it not unpleasant.
The juicy stringiness of chicken was lacking but KFC fans would know that moist, well-cooked chicken isn’t guaranteed in the meat original either. The vegan mayonnaise is indistinguishable from the egg-based version, but there wasn’t nearly enough of it.
Subway Meatless Marinara Melt
From £3.29, available in Subway stores nationwide
Subway Meatless Marinara Melt costs from £3.29 and is available in Subway stores nationwide
Most striking about this popular plant-based option – which comes complete with vegan ‘cheese’ – is that no one is quite sure what it’s made from. The ingredients list is nowhere to be seen.
When approached, Subway told us the meatballs in it were made from soya and wheat protein but this information is not disclosed on the website or menus in store.
Nutrition-wise, there’s not much difference than a meat version. It’s only marginally lower in calories, fat and sugar, but a little higher in salt. One sub provides a third of your recommended daily intake of added sugar. There seems to be more protein than the original, but because we don’t know the ratio of soya to wheat, we’ve no idea how well the body will absorb it.
But there is one plus – there’s twice as much fibre, especially necessary if you don’t opt for wholemeal bread.
At first bite, the meatballs in this are meaty, with that slightly springy yet soft bite – but all you really taste is the extraordinarily sweet and salty tomato sauce they’re bathed in. After a few mouthfuls, it all becomes a bit heavy going. Subway bread is a bizarre, dissolving substance and, I have to admit, I gave up before finishing the whole 6in sandwich, and spent the afternoon feeling oddly thirsty. That said, tasters in the office who have had the original say it’s a similar experience.
Pizza Hut Pepperphoni Pizza
From £11.96, Pizza Hut restaurants
NUTRITION * per 9in pan pizza
Pizza Hut Pepperphoni Pizza costs from £11.96 and is available from Pizza Hut restaurants
The high-street pizza joint has added to its already extensive vegan menu with this replica made with pea protein, sunflower oil and flavourings. Its vegan cheese is mostly a blend of water and coconut oil, with added flavourings and Vitamin B12. Pepperoni is extremely greasy, so it’s unsurprising that the vegan alternative contains just a third of the fat content.
While there’s still almost half a day’s calories here, you’ll save yourself about two bourbon biscuits’ worth if you opt for this version over the meat one. There’s also slightly less sugar, and the same amount of salt. But there’s a big flaw in the pitiful amount of protein – almost half that of the meaty original. The main ingredient listed is water, so there’s not much protein anyway, and this type, which comes from peas, isn’t as well absorbed by the body as other plant-based sources.
IT’S not half bad – vegan cheese is normally quite odd stuff, but seems to work on this very orange-looking pizza. The vegan pepperoni lacks the crispness, and oiliness of really spicy sausage slices, and tastes oddly like bacon-flavour crisps. ‘Quite nice,’ was the verdict from my pizza-loving friends.
Vivera Veggie Shawarma Kebab (175g)
NUTRITION*per 100g serving
Vivera Veggie Shawarma Kebab (175g) costs £2.59 and is available from waitrose.com
These thin slices of fake ‘kebab’ are made from rehydrated soya protein, plant oils and dried vegetables, with an added boost of iron and Vitamin B12 – both essential for healthy blood flow and optimum energy levels. The vitamins are a plus because deficiencies in both are common in vegans – such nutrients are scarce in plant foods.
This isn’t cooked as a typical kebab is – building strips of fat and meat on to a skewer – so it is much lower in fat. There’s also more than two Weetabix worth of fibre in the vegan alternative, and a fifth of your recommended daily dose.
You’ll slash your calorie intake in half if you choose this.
All the smoky, sponginess of a late-night doner kebab, without the morning feelings of regret. When heated for five minutes with cherry tomatoes and sliced garlic, it’s really rather delicious. You could easily mistake it for the real thing.
Overall Verdict: Try vegan options by all means, but don’t just assume they’re healthier.
For more diet advice, visit well-well-well.co.uk.