In this installment, I will review the vegan meats at the Plant Based World Expo; some familiar and some new, which ones are kosher now, and which to look out for future certification.
Going Beyond Burgers, Chicken is the Target
Nuggets, tenders, and cutlets were everywhere at the Plant Based World Expo. Sourced from around the world: the UK to Egypt, Vancouver to Greece. Everyone was trying to make the perfect breaded chicken.
Impossible Meats were not showing off their products at the show. Their burger remains (in my mind) the one to beat, but their chicken nuggets, now in stores, are not currently kosher certified (their spokesperson told me, “Although Impossible Chicken Nuggets do not contain any ingredient that would inhibit kosher certification, this product is not currently produced in a kosher-certified facility. While we aim to make our products suitable for everyone, we do not have a timeline to provide for kosher certification of Impossible Chicken Nuggets.”
However, you can get Beyond Chicken in stores now and it is certified OK pareve. Beyond Meat had a big booth and were dishing out burgers and chicken. Beyond’s first product several years ago was strips of grilled vegan white meat chicken that entered the uncanny valley—according to one report, a Whole Foods once used them in a vegan version of their chicken salad, but mixed up the signs; no one could tell which was which. Sadly, that product lost its certification when production was shifted to a new plant and it was then discontinued when the company focused on the Beyond Burger. Now chicken is back, in a new form.
Available as tenders, they are excellent, meaty and flavorful. The representative told me that they plan to gradually expand the chicken offerings to larger pieces.
Not at the show was Beyond Pork, which is sold in Asia. When this product comes to the US, the company plans to seek kosher certification, so we shall see if the OK will be willing to take it on. It should be noted that for both Impossible and Beyond, the major alternative pork market is China, not the US.
Another familiar brand at the show was Gardein from ConAgra Foods in Canada. Gardein was showing off their Ultimate Chick’n Tenders, Filets, and Nuggets. These are REALLY good. At home, I heated the filet in an air fryer. It had the texture and tasted very close to a thick chicken schnitzel. The Gardein representative also told me that their stuffed turk’y roasts (both the large and the individual) will soon be available year round, not just for the holidays. Those are favorites in my home, so that was good news. Most (but not all) Gardein frozen products are certified by Kosher Check (British Columbia Kosher)
Of course, not every chicken recipe calls for nuggets. CHKN Not Chicken is Kof-K certified chicken-style shreds that are perfect on pizza, in tacos, and in stir-fries. It is available plain, and in two seasoned varieties: zen and fiesta.
Several other vendors of nuggets told me that they were working on kosher certification, including Nuggs, which is already widely available in supermarkets.
Vegan Beef: It’s What’s For Dinner
There are already several vegan takes on the classic Jewish delicatessen, the mainstay of Jewish restaurants for much of the 20th century: Mort and Betty’s in Los Angeles, Sam & Gertie’s in Brooklyn, and Orchard Grocer on the Lower East Side, though none of these are kosher certified. But at the Plant Based World Expo trade show, there were several examples of kosher plant based meats that would be suitable for a deli platter or sandwich.
Lightlife is a well-known brand of alternatives to meat, including tempeh, smart ground, smart dogs, bacon, sausage, and Bologna, Turkey and Ham slices (they have also released chicken tenders and nuggets, but these are not yet kosher certified). Lightlife is part of Greenleaf Foods which also make Field Roast vegan meats. The representative told me that the company is working on getting certification for all of their products, so stay tuned.
Worthington makes deli slices (salami, ham, roast and smoked turkey, chicken, and corned beef) in both slices and deli rolls. They also make burgers, hot dogs, and steaks both for retail and food service (and, of course, chicken tenders and new chicken-style crumbles). A fascinating new product was their vegan cooked tuna; perfect in a salad, it was a quite convincing substitute. Products carry either Kof-K or OK certifications.
Crumbles for Tacos, Sloppy Joes, and Bolognese Sauce
For those looking for ground meat, there are a number of alternatives to Impossible and Beyond that don’t require refrigeration.
Longeve Protein Crumbles are made of pea protein (the same that is used in many plant-based burgers). Use the unseasoned version with your own spice blends or use their taco and masala curry seasoned crumbles. Just add liquid (broth or water) to re-hydrate in five minutes. Because it is shelf-stable for two years, it is always ready to sauté and season, just like any ground meat. It is “clean label” with just a single ingredient (other than the spices). Longeve also makes gluten-free “breadless” crumbs which are high in protein and available in regular and panko style. The company also has a line of ravioli made with their protein, but it is currently only available for food service. Look for it to be available in retail stores eventually. All their products are OU certified.
A similar product called neat is made from pecans, chickpeas, oats, corn, chia, and spices. Shelf-stable and available in original, southwest, Mexican, and Italian seasoned blends, this product is from the same people who created neat egg replacer. All neat products are Kof-K certified.
The base for many vegan meats is seitan, which is made from vital wheat gluten, essentially the protein in flour after the starch has been washed away. The remaining protein is then flavored and typically boiled, steamed, or baked (sometimes with tofu) to create a meaty-like texture.
There are many brands of seitan on the market. One that was at the show comes from Blackbird Foods in multiple seasonings: plain, chili lime, rosemary garlic, and Texas BBQ. Seitan has a texture that resembles meats and is great in stir-fries, sandwiches, and stews. It is pre-cooked, so only needs reheating and browning.
They also make 9” frozen pizza, margherita, kale-mushroom, BBQ, and “supreme” (sausage, onion, bell pepper) which uses Violife vegan cheese. Certified by IKC. Blackbird is an outgrowth of a well-loved vegan pizzeria in Philadelphia.
Another Philadelphia company is Luhv Food, an outgrowth of a vegan deli in the city of brotherly love. At the show, they showed off burger patties like Black Bean Plantain Poblano and Garbanzo Flax Chipotle, along with deli slices of Corn Beef and Maple Ham. Luhv is certified by IKC.
A New Take on the Classic Veggie Burger
Two other companies made veggie burgers that don’t pretend to look or taste like beef. They taste decidedly “veggie burger” and are a nice alternative to the fake meat side of modern processed vegan foods.
One you may have seen in several stores is Hilary’s. At the show, they displayed their Veggie Burger, Super Cauliflower, Black Bean, Southwest Aszuki Bean, Hemp & Greens, Root Veggie, Spicy Thai, and Black Rice burgers. Each has a distinct flavor and texture unlike the other brands. They also make a variety of breakfast sausages.
Similarly, Actual Veggies’s patties come in four “colors”: Purple (beet, carrot, navy beans,), Orange (sweet potato, carrot, cauliflower), Green (kale, broccoli, zucchini), and Black (black beans, parsnip, carrot). All have oats, cassava flour and spices, and have other vegetables not listed above. For those seeking a variety of foods, and who want to eat more vegetables but crave burgers, these are great grilled on a bun with the same toppings you would put on a meat (or fake meat) burger. They have a great texture, are sustainable, soy and nut free, and certified by Earth Kosher.
Peace in the form of chicken nuggets
I end with a story of how vegan businesses can bring people together. Coptic Christians are about 10% of the population in Egypt, but about 20% of the buying power. They refrain from meat for an entire month each year, and a local company called Good Foods sought to capitalize on that by making a meat-free product that would appeal to them, especially given that much of Middle Eastern food is meat-centric. They started making vegan chicken and beef products and the product took off. According to the company’s representative, they obtained kosher certification through Israel, but I have not yet been able to confirm this. It was not clear if we would be seeing much of their product in the US, but it was a great story of Jews, Christians and Muslims finding common ground through vegan food.