The term meatless has got to be one of the biggest words of 2019. Every other time I check a news feed, or turn on the radio, there’s more news about the rise of meatless meat products. Sometimes it’s gloom and doom, such as projections that an unsustainable meat industry will contribute to the end of human civilization by 2050 if we don’t reduce meat consumption. But thankfully, the meat alternative industry has provided mostly positive news, including stories that suggest Americans are embracing meatless meats, and predictions such items will carve out ten percent of the meat market over the next decade.
It has started to look that way. Beyond Meats recently registered a massively successful public stock offering, and its product’s newfound presence in Del Taco tacos heralds a new era of meatless fast food marketing. Burger King has started to roll out Whoppers made with the Impossible Foods brand of plant-based burger. The new generation of veggie burgers have become so meat-like, a Burger King in New York reportedly tricked vegetarian customers into thinking actual beef Whoppers were made using meatless alternative.
And they’re getting more meat-like. The second generation of meat-like veggie burgers have already arrived. Impossible introduced its Impossible Burger 2.0 earlier this year, and only today, Beyond announced a new “meatier” update to its patties, said to feature the sort of marbling meat gets from fat.
But I don’t really bring any of this up to discuss burgers. I’m currently more fascinated by Beyond’s other meatless offering, which bears no resemblance to ground beef at all. In fact, it’s made to replace pork sausage, including my favorite: bratwurst.
I found the meatless bratwurst at a pop up vendor called Veg’n Out (not to be confused with the former North Park restaurant, Veg-N-Out). Over the past year, Veg’n out has been serving vegan fare at the North Park and Hillcrest farmers markets, and Fridays at vegan brewery Modern Times Beer in Point Loma. They serve Beyond burgers on vegan pretzel buns, and do the same with Beyond brats.
This amazed me at first: vegan sausage sure sounds enough like an oxymoron. I mean, forget about vegans, I’ve known carnivores who are grossed out by sausages, due to varieties that include undesirable parts of an animal as blood, intestine, and organ meats, and styles such as bratwurst, which often include veal. But here’s where this new alternative meats market gets its momentum: the ambition of companies like Beyond Meat isn’t to market only to vegans and vegetarians, but to get omnivores eating meat alternatives too. In this case, even a meat eater squeamish about noshing on pig offal might embrace a tasty vegan sausage.
Speaking of this case, one of my bigger curiosity about vegan sausage is what the casing would be made of. The traditional sausage shape comes from the use of intestines, but those are obviously out. A look at the Beyond ingredients indicates it’s derived from algae. And the meat substitute inside is made mostly from pea, fava bean, and rice proteins.
Watching them sizzle on the Veg’n Out grill, I don’t think they’d be confused for the real thing. But biting into one, the texture turns out to be a fairly close match, from casing to minced meat. It was juicy, with a good flavor to go with its bite and chew. Its meatlessness mostly shows up in the lack of savory tang a genuine sausage gets from some of the undesirable castaway meats I mentioned. But that’s not a dealbreaker. Actually, while I’ve found Impossible burgers to be closer to the real thing, I generally prefer the flavor of a Beyond patty.
Maybe this will change as new generations of meat alternatives get closer to mimicking blood and fat. But in the year 2019, it’s almost more exciting to try the fake stuff.