It’s Veganuary and as some people ditch dairy, meat and fish to eat plant-based grub until the cows come home, food retailers are milking it for all its worth by launching new vegan meal ranges.
Greggs’ vegan sausage roll was so popular it sold out within hours in some veggie hotspots.
As McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, TGI Friday’s and others join in, meat-eater Laura Connor and vegetarian Amanda Evans give their verdicts on the latest plant-based offerings…
TGI Friday’s vegan burger £10.99
Meat-eater: This “bleeding burger” is designed to mimic rare meat. It looks weird and tastes bland, and isn’t a patch on a succulent bloody steak. My mushroom, beetroot and coconut oil patty was pale, floppy and failed to bleed…the only thing that could possibly have made it exciting.
Vegetarian: Possibly the worst burger I’ve had – and since becoming a vegetarian at age 11, I’ve had some corkers. I couldn’t finish it. It was far too chewy and felt too much like a real burger. At my restaurant, I was the first to try it as it had only been launched that morning, and, boy, did I feel like a guinea pig. It is supposedly a “bleeding” burger, but which vegan or vegetarian wants to see blood coming out of a burger?
Aldi Rainbow vegetable stew £2.19
Meat-eater: This has four of your five a day and is ready in minutes. But I found the chargrilled vegetables in a sugary tomato and lentil stew unsatisfactory and unpalatable. Don’t bother.
Vegetarian: You’re getting much of your five a day in one hit, which is great, but the tomato and lentil stew the veg sits in is a bit of a let-down. Aldi could have done so much more with this dish.
Greggs vegan sausage roll £1
Meat-eater: I have no idea why Piers Morgan felt the need to throw up after eating this – it’s yummy. The Quorn-filled puff pastry is melt-in-the-mouth and the spicy filling hits the spot, just like the meat version.
Vegetarian: According to staff at Greggs, customers have been going “crazy” for the new, no-meat roll since they introduced it last Thursday. Mine was steaming hot and fresh out of the oven.
I liked the taste, and the consistency was appealing. Now I know what all the hype is about with their 96 layers of puff pastry.
McDonald’s Happy Meal Veggie Wrap £2.49
Meat-eater: Their first-ever vegetarian wrap Happy Meal, made with two red pesto goujons, red onion and relish, is delicious and filling. With a similar texture and taste to McDonald’s chicken strips, the kids will never know it’s not meat. And, at 209 calories, it has 39 fewer calories than the crispy chicken wrap.
Vegetarian: The new no-meat Happy Meal left me feeling anything but happy. For starters, mine came in a paper wrapping which said “Chicken Wrap” on it. Secondly, the vegetable goujon inside was really dry and bland.
M&S Plant Kitchen vegan range
Roast Aubergine with Herby Grains, £3.50 (pictured), No Chic’n Nuggets, £2.50, and Chilli Non Carne & Rice, £3
Meat-eater: From the 60 items available in the Plant Kitchen vegan range, I chose the very tasty and light roast aubergine salad and the soya No Chic’n Nuggets, made with a gluten-free crumb. A bit pricier than McDonald’s, but worth it.
Vegetarian: I plumped for the Chilli Non Carne & Rice. It packs a punch with flavour. M&S have come up trumps.
Pizza Hut Jack ’n’ Ch**se £11.29
Meat-eater: It’s made with BBQ Jackfruit, which is supposed to resemble pulled pork. It’s not as juicy as pork, but it’s definitely tasty. The dairy-free, coconut oil-based cheese is less convincing and slides off the plate as a sticky, sweaty residue. No thanks.
Vegetarian: By far the highlight for me and simply delicious. Jackfruit is the non-meat alternative people are talking about right now and with this tasty topping it’s not hard to see why. The barbecue sauce gives it that extra kick.
Frankie & Benny’s Chickenless nuggets £5.99 and Not Dog £7.59
Meat-eater: I had the Chickenless Nuggets, made of rice protein and chia, and the Not Dog, made with vegan sausage. This rubbery mess looks and smells like plastic, and the smell of the nuggets put me off.
Vegetarian: The vegan sausage was presented in a kooky round red plastic tray, but what a letdown. The sausage was too peppery and had an unappealing, powdery consistency. The sausage left an aftertaste I had to keep ordering drinks to get rid of.
Iceland No Chick Fillets £2
Meat-eater: They claim they “won’t make you miss chicken” and taste fine if they’re slathered in ketchup. I’m starting to think this vegan stuff is only appetising disguised as something else. Namely meat.
Vegetarian: OK, vegetarians have never had that much choice before and most of it is usually mushy, but these fillets have some substance and texture. That’s about as good as it gets, but worth a try.
Meat-eater: I’m not a fan of faddy, mocked-up meat alternatives. These seem just as unhealthy as their meaty counterparts, and less satisfying. M&S has got it right with a range of wholesome vegan food that resembles a balanced diet. That seems to be the best way of easing into veganism. Now, pass the steak.
Vegetarian: Vegans and vegetarians agree we need more choice, and Veganuary has certainly got this off to a good start.
While some people may criticise the new fast-food or ready-meal-style options, for a busy mum they’re great now and again.
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