If you loved vegan chef Tal Ronnen’s book The Conscious Cook, you’ve probably already heard of Gardein, a newish line of vegan protein products that Tal often uses in his recipes. From Chick’n fillets to meat-free Buffalo Wings, Gardein offers easy-to-prep meat substitutes, both as ingredients for your own recipe or as heat-up-and-serve dishes.
Because I’m leery of putting plastic in the microwave and skeptical about the greenness of processed vegan “meats,” I’m really not the type of customer Gardein is aiming for. But I gave Gardein a try, and did find some good attributes to the products, especially compared to most veg meats I see at Whole Foods.
For one, Gardein products makes use of plant ingredients I can more readily recognize, though certainly more processed than what’s in the produce section. Gardein had fewer strange-sounding ingredients like whose names I couldn’t pronounce. And although not organic certified, Gardein products are GMO-free — and makes use of a few organic ingredients like organic beet root juice and organic evaporated cane juice. Plus, most of Gardein’s ingredients are grown in North American farms, and the actual products are assembled in Canada.
How does Gardein taste? I tried the Chick’n Scallopini (above, with organic California brown rice and my balcony-grown chard), Seven Grain Crispy Tenders, and Marinara Chick’n Good Stuff, and I’d say Gardein “meat” tastes about as good as Quorn products, and perhaps a little better than Tofurkey.
All three, as any who’ve tried them know, still have a somewhat rubbery, semi-spongy texture that anyone who’s tried fake meats is familiar with. So to say Gardein’s Chick’n Scallopini actually tastes like chicken would be a bit of a stretch (then again, can the rubbery chicken in Lean Cuisine meals be said to taste like real chicken?) — but I think I can safely say those with palates adjusted enough to enjoy fake meats could very well find Gardein products tasty.
My main issue with Gardein, though, is the same issue I have with most veg meat products: They’re very processed products that come encased in plastic. Gardein says it’s recently reduced packaging by 13%, but most products come wrapped in virgin plastic — with a few of the products encased in a second, inner plastic pouch you’re supposed to heat up in the microwave! Gardein says these pouches are made with nylon and low-density polyethylene and are safe for boiling and microwaving, but many eco-foodies — including myself — consider nuking plastic an environmental health no-no.
Because my meals are usually a lot less processed than Gardein’s products, my reaction after trying Gardein was much like that of Grist’s Lou Bendrick, who tried four “meatless” turkeys last Thanksgiving:
Consider starting an entirely new tradition, one that skips highly processed and packaged food products and bases the entire meal on, say, homemade pie. There’s a new Thanksgiving tradition I’m sure vegetarians and carnivores could all agree on.
Top image courtesy of Gardein; all other photos by Siel