Alton Brown wrote an article for Wired, called Tastes Like Chicken, in which he discusses a company he toured, Beyond Meat, and their success in developing a meat analogue product that doesn't just taste a lot like chicken -- it actually matches the texture pretty well, too.
I take a bite. While the unflavored product tastes distinctly vegetal and still has a bit of what I’d call tofu-bounce, a hint of the spongy, the tear is … meaty.
As I chew, I recall something Twitter cofounder, confirmed vegan, and Beyond Meat investor Biz Stone told me about his first taste of Brown’s Chicken-Free Strips: “When I ate Beyond Meat, my first thought was ‘If I were served this in a restaurant, I’d tell them they’d made a mistake and given me real chicken.’ ”
In that excerpt, he's tasting the not-meat straight out of the machinery, before it's been marinated to taste like chicken. But, as Brown emphasizes more than once in the article, the hard part of fake meat isn't the flavor. Flavor's easy. Texture is the insurmountable barrier. Or, was.
In additional good news, Beyond Meat isn't just trying to put together a fringe product for vegans:
Brown isn’t interested in selling just another meat analog, fighting it out with the likes of Tofurky. He wants to be in the meat business, with all the mass-market scale that implies. That’s what hooked Biz Stone and his investment partners at Obvious. “My expectation was that this would be another boutique meat analog product for well-heeled vegetarians,” Stone says. [...] “When I learned that Beyond Meat intended to compete in the meat industry itself and tackle problems like global resource scarcity and environmental impact,” Stone says, “I was sold.”
Brown’s target is not only vegetarians, who tend to deeply distrust processed foods, a category to which Beyond Meat undeniably belongs. He wants to convert people like, well, me. I’m cutting back on meat but have no intention of quitting it completely. I care about my health and the health of my family, and I wouldn’t mind eating in a way that minimizes any negative impact on the environment. And I like animals. You might say I’m “analog curious.” Problem is, just as vegetarians can be suspicious of processed foods, omnivores and carnivores tend to be irked by foods pretending to be other foods. Brown knows the trick is just to get it onto their plates. Once there, the proof is in the extruded slurry.
The biggest downside to the product is that it's not sold anywhere near me. The nearest place is a half hour's drive, so an hour plus shopping time (plus the cost of the unmeat and the gas) is a pretty huge investment to make for imitation meat.
Still, I think I'm going to go for it some time soon. I'm really hungry right now, but it sounds delicious, and even if it isn't something I could have regularly during the week, knowing whether I like it -- seeing for myself how close we are to serious meat replacement -- would be worth at least one afternoon.