Separating the Fake-Chicken Pretenders from the Fake-Chicken Contenders

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Advances in food technology have made meat substitutes more like the real thing then ever before, but can anyone make a faux chicken that actually tastes like ... chicken? The New York Times recently took a closer look at the increasing sales and, more importantly, the improving quality of "fake meats," which are generally plant-based proteins that are formed into meat-like imitation through some scientific massaging and flavor engineering.

Favored by moral vegetarians, environmentalists, and the health-conscious, the fake meat market got a sizable 8 percent bump from 2010 to 2012, according to market research from Mintel. It's still not giant, by any means, but it is growing in the aisles of Whole Foods and other supermarkets that cater to those looking for healthy alternative. 

For some, the goal of fake meat is to create an exact taste replica of real meat. Other companies are trying to pave their own path as a protein substitute with a distinctly non-meat-like taste. But ultimately, it comes down to one question: Do they taste good? We surveyed the assessments of some of the most popular fake-meat brands to figure out which fake chicken is the Best Fake Chicken, and if you meat haters (or meat lovers) should give any of them a shot.

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Beyond Meat


What it's made of: Yellow peas, mustard seeds, camelina, and yeast.

What it's supposed to taste like: Like chicken. “It has to be just as good as, just as convenient as, and maybe even cheaper than ... chicken,” Beyond Meat founder Ethan Brown told The New York Times.

What it actually tastes like: Because of a labeling mixup last year, some Whole Foods shoppers trying to buy chicken went home with this fake-chicken instead. “None of the customers apparently noticed the difference,” Beyond Meat explained, though they weren't happy about eating something they believed to be something else. 

The Times food critic Mark Bittman was tricked by the fake meat in 2012, and hesitantly admired the product's other qualities. "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," he writes. Just cut it up and combine it with a salad or wrap, and "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."

Verdict: Contender.

MorningStar Farms Chik Patties


What it's made of: A mix of wheat and soy.

What it's supposed to taste like: Like chicken.

What it actually tastes like: "The look and the texture are fantastic. They freeze well. But the taste is just plain nasty," The Examiner writes, citing its extreme saltiness. Although Morningstar makes up about 60 percent of the fake-meat market, there are surprisingly few critical (taste) assessment on their products. That is, unless you value the opinion of "Crazy Food Dude," who writes that they "have a borderline gelatinous feel." Frozen, gelatinous chicken. Can't wait!

Verdict: Pretender.



What it's made of: Mushroom-based product called Mycoprotein.

What it's supposed to taste like: Like chicken.

What it actually tastes like: Slate's Sara Dickerman gave Quorn faint praise. "The chicken patty has a great crisp crust and a pleasant chew and avoids the telltale bounce of soy and gluten meat substitutes," she wrote in 2005. "Sure, it has a slightly uric odor, but that's nothing compared with the toxic flavor of most soy 'meat' products." Sounds... not great? "[It] can be pretty appealing in some instances," Bittman writes with faint praise. More recently, their vegan burgers have received some kudos, but the fungus-derived "mycoprotein" continues to raises questions about its actual nutritional and health properties. 

Verdict: Pretender.



What it's made of: "Fibers that are very meaty from a plant base," Gardein founder Yves Potvin told The Times, including soy and wheat.

What it's supposed to taste like: Like chicken.

What it actually tastes like: Ellen DeGeneres is a big fan, for one. "[My personal chef] made this for us the other night, and it was so delicious I didn't realize how much I miss chicken pot pies," she said on her show. "It tastes just like chicken." Bittman was more hesitant, calling it a "better-than-adequate substitute for chicken in things like wraps, salads and sauces."

Verdict: Contender.

Conclusion: They all want to taste "like chicken." Whether that comparative chicken is actually delicious or brutally bland, though, varies.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.