If you're going to replace meat with plants, sausage is a good place to start.
There was a lot of buzz when Tyson Foods invested in Beyond Meat and its supposedly 'bloody veggie burger'. So as a meat eater who kind of likes fake meat, I was excited to check it out.
When I finally did get to try a Beyond Burger, however, I wasn't exactly blown away. Don't get me wrong; it was tasty, and a more decadent experience than your average veggie burger. But unlike its rival Impossible Burger—which I have tried and really, really enjoyed—I was under no illusions that it was actually beef. Between a slightly softer texture, and a slight coconut aftertaste, this was a decent enough burger, but it was absolutely a veggie burger.
So when I finally saw Beyond Meat's sausage products in our local Whole Foods, I didn't have too high expectations. They come in three flavors right now—Brat Original, Hot Italian, and Sweet Italian—but I opted to start in the brat territory. I must say, I was impressed. Coming, as they do, in an actual vegetarian casing, they are already ahead of many of their other vegetarian sausage counterparts which tend to lack that "snap" of a real, meat-based sausage. Here's how the Beyond Meat site explains this innovation:
The casing is made of alginate, which is obtained from algae. It is a natural product and 100% plant-based. Alginate is used in some fresh turkey and seafood based sausages to deliver a similar pop and texture as animal-based casings.
As for the "meat" itself (sorry, Missouri!), this too was impressive. Like the Beyond Burger and the Impossible Burger, there's a fatty mouthfeel that is unlike most veggie products that have come before it and decidedly reminiscent of an actual meat sausage. And presumably because the form factor allows for spices and herbs, I found both the initial flavor and the aftertaste to be a whole lot closer to a real bratwurst than the burger was to a, ahem, burger.
That said, it wasn't a slam dunk replica. While there is some chew and variation in texture, it still comes off a little softer and perhaps pastier than the (really good) bratwurst I am used to getting from a local butcher here. But it's also got 38% less saturated fat and 43% less total fat overall, which meant that while I was getting a certain amount of greasy decadence, I actually ended up less bloated and uncomfortable than I'm used to when I'm indulging in the real thing.
Overall, this might be one of the better plant-based meat analogs I've tried, which is hardly surprising. Given the highly processed, spiced nature of sausage in general—not to mention its less than healthy reputation—it seems like a logical place for plant-based "clean meat" startups to hone their craft.
I look forward to seeing and tasting what Beyond Meat is working on next.