We recently got our hands on some offerings from Beyond Meat, a relatively new vegan startup that claims in a press release that its plant-based "chicken" has "all the protein, taste, chew and enjoyment of chicken" minus the antibiotics, hormones, GMOs, trans fats or cholesterol present, in varying degrees, in the real thing.
But how do those claims hold up? After hearing about these products for months -- they'd previously only been sold on the West Coast, but the company is widening its distribution in 2013 -- the Huffington Post decided to put three flavors of Beyond Meat chicken strips to the test: Lightly Seasoned, Southwest Style and Grilled.
Indeed, all three have a meaty quality to them. Their appearance and texture come close to that of real chicken, but HuffPost editors detected something off -- several, both vegetarian and otherwise, mentioned a sensation akin to the "uncanny valley" phenomenon most often used to describe robots that look too human, such to the extent that they're off-putting. In the same respect, the chicken strips seem to inhabit a strange territory between meat and vegetable, which editors across the board found unpleasant.
On the upside, the strips' flavors aren't altogether unappealing, although the Grilled and Southwest varieties are extraordinarily salty. The smell, however, is a different story. The stuff has a strong, smoky stink with a vegetal quality that smells, well, un-chicken-like.
Back in March of 2012, Mark Bittman offered the strips some faint praise:
The thick strands ... didn’t precisely resemble chicken strips, and when I tasted them unadulterated I found it bland, unexciting and not very chicken-like. But not offensive, either, and as an ingredient we’d all be hard-pressed to distinguish it from most of the animal-based models.
At least one editor agreed with Bittman's latter point, and put forth an interesting point: if the strips were hidden in a burrito, he might not notice they weren't made with real chicken. Now there's a thought.
The suggested retail price for each package is $5.29. For where to find Beyond Meat products, search for your zip code on the company's web site.
Also on HuffPost:
LAST PLACE: Planet Hollywood, 1.43
"Way too sweet. What's on these?" "Tastes like sugar." "Weird, but not bad when you expect it. The mustard helps." "Oddly sweet. Really off-putting." "Inedible." "Some sort of sweet glue layer. Worst piece of chicken ever encountered." "Awful, slimy, sweet."
6th Place: Red Lobster, 2.67
"Standard approach but bad flavor from the frying." "Plump, moist chicken strips with the desired crispy and thick breading." "Tender meat, crunchy coating, but forgettable." "Good thick batter but awful honey mustard sauce." "Strangely reminiscent of Matzo, but not in a good way."
5th Place, Ruby Tuesday's, 2.75
"Good batter." "Limp, anemic." "Good taste but crust was a little too pale and doughy." "Sandy. Blech."
4th Place: Hard Rock Cafe, 3
"Fairly crunchy, with natural-tasting chicken." "No taste! But chicken moist and tender." "Tender white meat." "Needs sauce. Good texture." "Too crisp."
3rd Place: Cheesecake Factory, 3.8
"Good crunch. A little spicy. I'd get it again." "On the dry side, but very crunchy coating." "Good breading, tender chicken." "Good meat but pretty standard." "Really crispy but a little underseasoned."
2nd Place Tie: Applebee's, 4
"A little dry on the inside, but delicious crust." "Good, crispy breading. Served piping hot." "Tender, moist meat, great brown crunchy crust." "Crunchy outside, tender inside, but lacking salt."
2nd Place Tie: TGI Friday's, 4
"Just what I want. Pleasant ratio between breading and chicken." "A category leader." "Chicken almost juicy enough." "Very flavorful, tender, moist and nice coating -- maybe too bready." "Nice freshly-fried texture."
WINNER: Chili's, 4.8
"Nicely crispy, great especially with honey mustard sauce." "Could be crunchier, but the meat couldn't be much better." "The best chicken strips I've ever had. Hands down, no question about it." "Great batter, real chicken taste."