Why do vegetarians want fake meat products?

Updated on 15 March 2013 | 0 Comments

There's been mild uproar after Walkers started adding meat to its crisps. Simon Ward wonders why vegetarians want to eat 'fake' meat in the first place and puts his prejudices to the test.

Walkers has caused controversy by including meat flavours for the first time in its roast chicken and smoky bacon crisp varieties. Vegetarians have apparently deserted the UK’s leading crisp brand in droves, with rival Golden Wonder gleefully highlighting its meat-free flavours. But why do vegetarians want to eat meat-flavoured crisps anyway?

Well, for many vegetarians, it’s an ethical choice rather than a flavour one. When I went vegetarian for a couple of years in my late teens, I missed the taste of bacon, burgers, sausages, chicken and steak, but I  made my choice from a moral standpoint (which has since obviously lapsed). Despite my cravings though, I never felt the need to eat ‘fake’ meat products such as vegetarian bacon or sausages.

I'm not against vegetarianism in any shape or form. I just don't get why people want to eat versions of traditional meat products in vegetarian, and not very tasty, form.

There's always an alternative

OK, I can see that in certain social occasions, such as a barbecue, it might be good to feel like you’re not from a completely alien race. But when there are so many wonderful veggie recipes you can cook on a barbie (these spicy Paneer skewers, to pull just one example from our recipe catalogue), it's a crying shame if you or your host just breaks out the fakes.

In my experience, 'fake' bacon tastes like cardboard and contains colour, flavourings and sugar. Vegetarians might counter-argue that, by shunning some processed meats, at least they haven't been eating horse and other foreign bodies in disguise. But the taste of fake meat doesn't come anywhere close to the real thing that's been properly produced and labelled.

And as for crisps? Sorry veggies, I love authenticity. If that means including meat flavours to make, wait for it, meat-flavoured crisps then I'm all for it.

Taste test time!

lovefood's Simon Ward does a blindfolded meat taste testAs always at lovefood Towers, when it comes to making an assertion about food we like to put our taste buds to work to prove our theories.

So we went out and bought three types of meat (ham, sausages and chicken) in three different guises (low budget meat, higher-end meat and a veggie version). Surprisingly, we couldn't find a veggie bacon locally.

We then conducted a blindfolded taste test with six participants (including myself) tasting the three products with no idea which was which. The participants had to nominate a favourite, and stick their necks out and see if they could identify which was the veggie version. Here's what happened.


The contenders: Waitrose Wiltshire cured ham, Waitrose hand carved and dry cured ham, Quorn ham-style slices

The result: everyone correctly identified the veggie ham. Four people preferred the hand carved, with the other two plumping for the Wiltshire. For me, this was fairly straightforward as the Quorn 'ham' tasted really sweet and artificial. When the blindfolds were off, it revealed itself as resembling hideous slices of the 'mystery meat' that sometimes pops up in American TV sitcoms.


The contenders: Waitrose free range pork sausages, Duchy Originals organic free range pork sausages, Quorn Chef's Selection pork-style sausages

The result: interestingly, one person thought the Duchy Originals were the veggie version. Again, I felt this was pretty obvious, as the meat versions had a very meaty taste, with the Duchy variety oozing flavour and therefore my favourite by a country mile. The veggie variety, by contrast, was just bland. But the panel was very much split on their preferences, with each sausage garnering two votes apiece. Interestingly, m'colleague Charlotte Morgan (who regular readers will know eats more veggie food than meat) was one of the two who plumped for the veggie version.


The contenders: Waitrose flame-grilled cooked chicken pieces, Waitrose organic chicken breast fillets (cooked by lovefood editor Andrew Webb), Meet The Alternative chicken-style pieces

The result: two of the panel (including me, dear reader) thought the flame-grilled pieces were the veggie version. The rest got it right. In my defence, I don't think there was that much to choose between these flavour-wise and I actually plumped for it (narrowly) as my favourite. But the fresh cooked fillets were the overall winner. Indeed, one person spat out the veggie version while another thought it was turkey. And when the blindfolds came off, I was horrified by the appearance of the veggie version (bottom right bowl in the picture above) – it looked like chicken curry that had been sat in the fridge for days.

The overall verdict

So was I persuaded to change my opinion, even by the chicken? No, I'm afraid this taste test just confirmed my belief that fake meat is not a good thing. It doesn't look appetising (in its uncooked form anyway) and it generally (with the honorable exception of the chicken) just doesn't taste anything like the real thing, which is surely the point.

What do you think about 'fake' meat products? Are there good ones? Let us know in the Comments box below.

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