By Lindsey Gallagher
Lindsey Gallagher (they/them) is a non-binary nonfiction writer from Shelter Island, New York. They are currently pursuing their MFA at Northern Arizona University. They serve as the Editor-in-Chief of Thin Air Magazine and teach English Composition. Their work can be found in The Oval and The Palhouse Review. Outside of writing, they enjoy running and outdoor adventures of many sorts.
Welcome back! This week I’m very excited to take you with me for some taste tests of assorted plant-based products. I put some of my favorite products head-to-head with other brands, and I also tried some new items. It was lots of fun!
To start, my partner Rachel and I tested the iconic chicken nugget. For this, we put three versions of plant-based nuggets to the test: MorningStar Farms Veggie Chik’n Nuggets, Gardein Seven Grain Crispy Tenders, and Impossible Foods Chicken Nuggets. We’d both had MorningStar and Gardein before, but we got to put them head to head. And we got to try Impossible’s nuggets for the first time!
We assessed seven different criteria to determine the all-around winner. These included:
- Flavor of the “meat” – the seasoning of the inner meat and an answer to the basic question: does this taste good, or does it taste like chemicals?
- Flavor of the breading – the seasoning in the breading and if it had that rich saltiness we so crave
- Texture of the “meat” – how moist it felt and its composure (was it stringy, firm, chewy, tender?)
- Texture of the breading – how crunchy and crispy it was
- How chicken-like – how well the nugget mimicked a nugget made of real chicken meat, which is a sort of combination of the texture and the flavor of the “meat”
- Protein content – how much protein was packed into the nugget
- Value – the cost per ounce of nugget
The flavor of the “meat,” flavor of the breading, texture of the “meat,” texture of the breading, and how chicken-like were all scored on a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the best and 1 the worst. The protein content and value I also scored from best to worst but with a slightly different point system. The one with the most protein per serving got 10 points, 2nd most got 5 points, and worst got 0 points. Similarly, the one with the lowest cost per ounce got 10 points, 2nd lowest got 5 points, and lowest got 0 points. By adding all of these scores together I came up with the nugget’s overall score, which ranged from 0 to 70 points.
Gardein Seven Grain Crispy Tenders
The first nugget we tried, though technically it was a tender, was the Gardein Seven Grain Crispy Tender. True to form, these were longer tenders rather than the more circular nugget. The breading on the Gardein was much lighter in color and thinner than the others. You could also see the diversity of grains, with a few visible whole oats. Trying the tender, Rachel was delighted by the texture, which was firm and tender. She also enjoyed the rich variety of seasonings in the breading. She found it had a good taste, but it only did an okay job mimicking chicken. For me, this tender was relatively bland. The texture of the “meat” was fine—nice and tender—but the flavor was forgettable. In terms of the breading, I found there was very little, and it lacked that desirable salty crunch. On another note, these nuggets took far longer to cook and get crispy than the others. Overall, the Gardein was average. I would certainly eat it again, but it wasn’t great. In terms of the protein content there is 7.8 grams of nugget for every gram of protein. For value, these tenders cost 55 cents per ounce.
Impossible Foods Chicken Nugget
Next in our test was the Impossible nugget. Rachel absolutely loved this nugget, giving it 8s across the board. She said the “meat” very closely resembled chicken meat in texture and taste. She also enjoyed the breading and the satisfying crunch. I, however, was not partial to the Impossible nugget. The “meat” had a pronounced chemical aftertaste that really ruined the whole nugget for me. The texture was like chicken but that wasn’t enough for me to like it. The breading tasted fine but it was less thick and flavorful than MorningStar Farm’s. I wouldn’t pick this nugget to try again, but Rachel absolutely would. In terms of protein content there are 7.3 grams of nugget for every gram of protein and it costs 54 cents per ounce of nugget.
MorningStar Farms Veggie Chik’n Nugget
Our final nugget was MorningStar Farms. For Rachel this nugget was forgettable, as the Gardein was for me. She thought the textures were working for both the “meat” and breading, but the flavor was lacking. In terms of mirroring chicken, for Rachel, this nugget did the worst job of the three. MorningStar Farms has been my favorite nugget for a while, and it was not outmatched in this test. I still feel that this nugget has the best flavor—a non-chemical tasting “meat” and a well-seasoned breading. The “meat” is dense and tender and bites like a piece of chicken and the breading is perfectly crunchy and crisp. This nugget will still be my tried and true and I genuinely think they are delicious. MorningStar Farm also outperformed the other two for both protein content and value: every 6.6 grams of nugget contained a gram of protein and it costs only 44 cents per ounce which is 10 cents less per ounce than the other two!
|MorningStar Farms||Gardein||Impossible Foods|
|Flavor of “meat”||Rachel- 4, Lindsey- 8||Rachel- 8, Lindsey- 5||Rachel- 8, Lindsey- 3|
|Flavor of breading||Rachel- 4, Lindsey- 9||Rachel- 8, Lindsey- 5||Rachel- 8, Lindsey- 7|
|Texture of “meat”||Rachel- 7, Lindsey- 8||Rachel- 8, Lindsey- 5||Rachel- 8, Lindsey- 8|
|Texture of breading||Rachel- 7, Lindsey- 9||Rachel- 8, Lindsey- 4||Rachel- 8, Lindsey- 7|
|How chicken-like||Rachel- 4, Lindsey- 7||Rachel- 6, Lindsey- 4||Rachel- 8, Lindsey- 8|
|Protein content||Every 6.6 grams has 1g protein – 10 points||Every 7.8 grams has 1g protein – 0 points||Every 7.3 grams has 1g protein – 5 points|
|Value (cost per ounce)||44¢ – 10 points||55¢ – 0 points||54¢ – 5 points|
|Overall (out of 70)||Rachel- 46, Lindsey- 61||Rachel- 38, Lindsey- 23||Rachel- 50, Lindsey, 43|
The clear winner of the nugget challenge depends on the taste tester. Rachel, who eats chicken and has a better familiarity with its flavor and texture than I do at this point, loved the Impossible nuggets. I loved the MorningStar Farms nuggets because their flavor was superior to the Impossible nuggets, which had a chemical aftertaste to me. I also feel MorningStar has the best breading. For me, it was less important that the nugget mimic chicken closely; I just wanted a solid-tasting nugget with a crunchy and well-seasoned breading. Rachel cared much more about how well the nugget mimicked chicken and was impressed by how well Impossible did that. She said if you gave her a chicken nugget and an Impossible nugget she would be hard-pressed to tell the difference. Rachel would happily eat Impossible nuggets as a substitute for chicken nuggets. In terms of the loser on the taste and texture-based fronts, Rachel disliked MorningStar Farm’s the most and I disliked Gardein’s the most. When it comes to criteria that doesn’t depend on flavor or texture, which are subjective, there is a clear winner and loser. MorningStar Farms was the most protein dense and it had the best value by a large margin. Gardein however, had the worst protein content and it also cost the most (by a slim margin over Impossible).
A new snack!
This wasn’t a test pitting one snack against another, but I did try a new vegan snack product to share with you: Spudsy Sweet Potato Puffs in the Cheezy Cheddar flavor. I purchased these to see how they hold up to Hippeas Chickpea Puffs (vegan white cheddar flavor), which I think are the golden standard for vegan cheese puffs. Hippeas are incredibly light and airy and their flavor is truly cheesy. They are delightful. Unfortunately, the Spudsy puffs did not hold up. These puffs are crunchier and harder, lacking airiness. In terms of the flavor, I didn’t taste sweet potato at all. And the cheese wasn’t good either—it was super chemical-tasting and pretty awful, honestly. It reminded me of the flavor of Kraft mac & cheese. This may be a controversial opinion, but I used to hate Kraft because the cheese tasted so chemically to me. I would not recommend buying this product, and I’m glad I could save you the effort of trying them yourself. Like any other food, not all plant-based food is necessarily good. Mimicking dairy cheese still seems to present a challenge for many plant-based companies. Still, it is very fun to experiment and try new products yourself! If you’re looking for a cheese puff Hippeas Chickpea Puffs reign supreme!
I was very excited to try some new plant-based protein bars this week, as it’s often hard with my allergy to find ones that I can eat and have a decent flavor.
First, I tried a peanut butter chocolate protein ProBar. This bar was coated in chocolate and had a rice-krispie-like filling. It was soft to bite, but the krispies made for a pleasant crunch, too. The overpowering flavor of the bar was the chocolate, which I, a chocolate-lover, enjoyed. The peanut-butter krispie inside had less of a pronounced flavor. All in all, this was a very solid bar—it wasn’t chemical-tasting, and it didn’t have that icky protein powder flavor that really turns me away. Certainly not the tastiest thing ever, but I would certainly buy this again if I was looking for a protein-rich snack.
Since nutritional quality seems to be a factor in many people’s choices for protein bars, I wanted to include some of the basic nutrition facts for this bar:
- Calories: 280 (70g)
- Protein: 20g (1g protein = 3.5g of bar)
- Fat: 9g total (4g saturated fat, 0g trans fat)
- Sodium: 390mg
- Carbohydrates: 32g
- Dietary Fiber: 6g
- Sugar: 12g (11g of which are added)
- Iron: 3mg (15% of daily value)
Then I tried a peanut butter chocolate chip No Cow protein bar. This bar was not for me. The No Cow bar was smaller than the Probar and much thinner. It did not have a coating; it was simply a soft bar with chocolate chips mixed in. The overpowering flavor of the bar was the taste of protein powder, which isn’t desirable at all (at least to me). The chocolate chips were hardly noticeable. I think the worst thing about this bar was the soft texture and lack of crunch. It didn’t feel like I was eating a solid, rather something in between a solid and a liquid. That in itself prevented me from taking a second bite. As you can guess, I will not be buying this again.
As for the nutrition facts for this bar, here they are:
- Calories: 200 (60g)
- Protein: 20g (1g protein = 3g of bar)
- Fat: 5g total (2g saturated fat, 0g trans fat)
- Sodium: 220mg
- Carbohydrates: 26g
- Dietary Fiber: 15g
- Sugar: 1g
- Iron: 3mg (15% of daily value)
Nutritionally, the No Cow bar has more protein per gram and much less sodium (170mg) than the ProBar. For those who care about the sugar content, the No Cow bar also wins there with 11 grams less than the ProBar. However, in the absence of sugar, No Cow is sweetened with artificial sweeteners Erythritol and Stevia, which have some potentially adverse health effects. Of course, all of us will have individual preferences for our protein bars, but at the most basic level the No Cow bar has more protein per gram.
On another note, like many plant-based bars these guys are expensive. I paid just shy of $3 for each of these. Certainly, buying in bulk makes it slightly more affordable but these would still put a dent in your grocery budget. There are much cheaper ways to get your protein in!
To end the testing, I tried two different brands of vegan chocolate chip cookies, which are one of my favorite desserts.
To start I had the Made Good chocolate chip cookies, which are mini cookies. The cool thing about Made Good cookies is that they contain a number of vegetables, which add vitamins and minerals. These cookies have extracts from spinach, broccoli, carrots, tomatoes, beets, and shiitake mushrooms. You might be thinking that sounds like a sub-par cookie. However, you really don’t taste these veggies at all! These particular cookies are crunchy (and perhaps a bit dry) but I found they have the right combo of cookie to chocolate. They are sweet but not too sweet. They reminded me a lot of mini Chips Ahoy! cookies. I very much enjoyed the size and these could have great versatility as a topping or add-in for other baked treats. I would happily buy these again! Made Good has a lot of other great products, like granola bars, crackers, crispy squares, and more, too. I highly recommend you check them out!
I also tried Back to Nature Homestyle Soft Baked Chocolate Chunk Cookies. These cookies came in a more traditional size. Since these were soft baked, they were obviously soft, which is my preferred texture for cookies. These cookies were also a bit dry, but they had a lot of chocolate to make up for that. Still, I didn’t like the flavor of the cookie itself—it reminded me of the flavor of protein powder, which is not what I want in a cookie. I don’t think I would buy these again.
I hope you enjoyed coming along on these taste tests with me. Now it’s time for you to get out there, experiment, and try new things. It’s much more fun when you get to do the tasting yourself!
Stay tuned next week to hear about some common questions and challenges new plant-based eaters may have, along with my answers and advice!
A small note: next week’s post will come out early, on Thursday, as I have an adjustment in my schedule.
Thanks for reading!
Recipe of the Week: Stuffed Sweet Potato!
A few weeks ago, I mentioned Purple Carrot as a great resource for someone new to plant-based diets. While Purple Carrot is a meal delivery service, all of their recipes are accessible online for free! This recipe for stuffed sweet potato with cucumber chickpea salad and miso tahini is one of my Purple Carrot favorites. I never would’ve thought up a combination like this and the miso tahini makes this a phenomenally umami dish! On top of this, this meal is packed with nutrients! Try it out here!