The Well-Intentioned Eater: My Foray Into The Faux Chicken World

One inquisitive omnivore’s journey towards healthier and more compassionate eating…

(Click here for why I started)

This week I’ve been eating a lot of faux chicken, or more accurately my dog, Monty, has—so far I’m not really a fan, but I must admit chicken alternatives are much better than they used to be. Lets face it, we eat a lot of meat. In fact, the amount has doubled worldwide in the last 20 years and is expected to double again by 2030; meaning we’ll need even millions of tonnes more meat. This kind of demand is just not sustainable and will have a detrimental impact on the environment. Now I’m not saying we all have to give up meat, but I do think we need to be more conscientious and consider other plant-based options.

My first faux chicken sampling was Beyond Meat’s grilled Chicken-Free Strips. I actually had high hopes for this one after I read that Bill Gates had tried it and said he was “impressed.” After all he’s a pretty smart guy, so I figured that would be a good place to start. But as it turns out, not so much. For me, there was a bit of a smokey taste and not in a good way. Even after marinating it over night in my favorite sauce and sautéing it with red peppers and scallions, the chicken strips still had a somewhat fake taste to it. The texture was also a little rubbery.

Asian-style Beyond Meat's Grilled Chicken-Free Strips sautéed with peppers and scallions./Photo credit: Lisa Singer
Asian-style Beyond Meat’s Grilled Chicken-Free Strips sautéed with peppers and scallions. Photo credit: Lisa Singer

The fact is, I was already apprehensive about Beyond Meat’s chicken-free strips from the nutrition label. The 20g of protein and 120 calories per serving (85g) were right in line with real chicken, but the sodium’s higher than I’d like at 350mg. This seems to be consistent with a lot of the faux meats. That and the carbohydrates, which is definitely an issue for me because I usually try to eat a low carb diet. This is where my next tasting faired better.

I expressed my carb and sodium concerns to Elizabeth, a very nice and extremely helpful vegan I met at Whole Foods, and she suggested I try Gardein Chick’n Strips. She told me in her 30 years as a vegan she’s tried almost everything and that Gardein is one of her favorites for not only taste, but because they also seem to have less carbohydrates and sodium. I have to say I definitely liked the look of Gardein’s Chick’n Strips better than Beyond Meat’s and they had almost half the carbs and sodium. At first bite they even seemed to taste okay, with little flavor at all—which actually would be fine since adding a light marinade or some spices could give them all the savor you need. Unfortunately after eating more I started to get an off taste in my mouth. It wasn’t horrible, but I wasn’t loving it.

Crispy Chix
Gardein Chick’n Strips. Photo credit: Lisa Singer

Just as I thought my first foray into faux chicken was going to be a bust. Elizabeth’s meat-eating husband came through. It turns out his favorite is Gardein’s Crispy Tenders and he has good taste—they’re delicious! They’re just like eating a real chicken nugget; the texture, the seasoning, all of it. Nutrition-wise, they’re about half the fat of the real thing and are made with 7-grain breading, so they didn’t leave me with that junk food queasiness.

So no rave reviews for the fake grilled chicken but they’re not horrible either, and I do think they might taste better with a heavier sauce or mixed in a sandwich. Since I am trying to eat healthier though, I think I’ll find other ways to get my protein for now. That said, I’m not done looking for a better faux version. There are so many chickens killed each year for their flesh—nearly 8 billion. They’re abused and kept crammed in cages and windowless sheds. I didn’t always think about that, but now that I’m more aware, I can’t help it. So maybe if the next fake chicken I try is almost perfect, that will be good enough because then it might just mean more real chickens won’t suffer and die.

Let me know what you think and if you have any other food suggestions or recipes for me to try, please send them my way!

— Lisa Singer, exclusive to Global Animal