In A Taste Test Of Vegan Foods, Do They Ever Taste Better Than The Real Thing?

06/22/2015 10:38 am ET | Updated Jun 22, 2015
Stefan Czimmek

Here’s the beef (groan) with going vegan: bad-tasting products. Faux meat, faux cheese, faux ice cream -- the list goes on and on for omnivores who just can’t ditch their faves as they get on the plant-based bandwagon. So if you don’t have to be a vegan for health reasons, do any vegan substitutes actually taste good enough to lure you in to the plant-based lifestyle?

We had to find out the truth with an in-house taste test. From dairy to meat, our group of 10 taste testers revealed all when they blindly tasted 8 vegan products against their non-vegan counterparts. No brands were named during the test, and tasters were asked to guess which products were vegan.

Spoiler alert: Vegan cheese is bland, all mayonnaise is swill, and you might want to just refrain from buying processed vegan food if you can avoid it -- although coconut yogurt is rather superb. How would your taste buds, your conscience and your wallet respond after this? And are any of these vegan products delicious enough that even an omnivore might prefer them? Find out below.

This taste test has not been influenced by any of the brands included.

    Gabriela Landazuri Saltos
    Breakstone's All Natural Unsalted Butter
    Ingredients: Cream, natural flavor
    Cost: $3.09 for 8 ounces Comments: "These were both similar in taste, but guessing this is vegan-based texture." "Creamy, not salty, not a strong taste." "So creamy. So delicious." "Has more of a yellowish tinge." "A bit dry and tasteless." "A little bland." Creamy, real." "Fresh taste, probably vegan." "So creamy, fresh from the cow."
    Rating (out of 10): 6.5
    Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks
    Ingredients: Natural oil blend (palm fruit, canola, soybean, flax and olive oils), water, salt, contains less than 2% of natural flavor, soy protein, soy lecithin, lactic acid (non-dairy), and naturally extracted annatto (for color).
    Cost: $4.69 for 1 pound Comments: "Tasted more chemical than the first." "Hard to tell which is vegan! This is margarine-y... vegan." "Perfectly salty. Super creamy." "This is real butter. Incredibly flavorful." "Also delicious, but nuttier?" "Yummy." "Too oily/salty."
    Rating (out of 10): 5.4
    Gabriela Landazuri Saltos
    Kraft American Singles
    Ingredients: Milk, cheddar cheese (milk, cheese culture, salt enzymes), whey, milk protein concentrate, milkfat, sodium citrate, contains less than 2% of calcium phosphate, modified food starch, whey protein concentrate, salt, lactic acid, annatto and paprika extract (color), natamycin (a natural mold inhibitor), enzymes, cheese culture, Vitamin D3
    Cost: $3.99 for 12 ounces Comments: "Chemically and processed, tastes like childhood." "Yuck I hate American cheese, tastes like plastic." "Looks like a Kraft slice -- shiny!" "This is soft and melty." "Looks and feels like Kraft." "Without looking, cheese looks vegan (too many breakfasts with my health-freak dad growing up)." "Really soft and chewy." "Mushy. Yuck." "Tastes like Kraft singles which I don't really like except on a grilled cheese." "Creamy."
    Rating (out of 10): 4.6
    Follow Your Heart American Style Slices
    Ingredients: Filtered water, coconut oil, modified food starch, potato starch, sea salt, natural flavor (plant sources), olive extract, paprika extract and beta carotene for color
    Cost: $4.99 for 7 ounces Comments: "Dry, but fine." "A lot more flavorful and thick, took longer to melt, probably vegan." "Vegan?" "This is hard and rubbery." "Dry." "But wait! This has zero flavor so I think this one is actually vegan! I was wrong ... maybe?" "Tastes like American cheese, pretty bland." "Not terrible, but a little bland and don't think I'd want to eat a lot of it." "A little bland but OK."
    Rating (out of 10): 3.1
    Gabriela Landazuri Saltos
    Dannon All Natural Vanilla Yogurt
    Ingredients: Cultured grade A reduced fat milk, sugar, natural vanilla flavor, pectin
    Cost: $1.09 for 6 oz. Comments: "Delightfully tart, mmm vanilla-y." "Reminds me of Danimals yogurt I ate as a kid, thick texture." "Tastes real." "Yum, vanilla yogurt." "Ew." "Sugary, watery." "I think this is the real one but I don't love it, texture is kind of gross." "Fine!"
    Rating (out of 10): 5.4
    VEGAN So Delicious Dairy Free Cultured Coconut Milk Vanilla
    Ingredients: Organic coconut milk (water, organic coconut cream), organic dried cane syrup, chicory root extract (inulin), pectin, tapioca dextrose, natural flavors, algin (kelp extract), magnesium phosphate, tricalcium phosphate, locust bean gum, rice starch, live cultures, citric acid, carageenan, guar gum, dipotassium phosphate, Vitamin B12
    Cost: $2.39 for 6 oz. Comments: "Chemically, sediment-like after-taste, sour." "Bitter tasting." "Creamy, but kind of watery, feels like vanilla flavor is trying to mask something?" "I can tell this isn't dairy, but I like this so much better! It tastes like cake batter." "Very vanilla-y, makes me think it's homemade and not processed." "Both are super sweet, but this is brownish ... so it's vegan?" "The healthier one has to look less appetizing, right?" "Very dark color, tastes like a sugary, watery, milky baby food." "Deliciously sweet, smooth texture." "So much better than the other yogurt."
    Rating (out of 10): 5.8
  • MILK
    Gabriela Landazuri Saltos
    Cream-o-land skim milk
    Ingredients: Fat free skim milk with Vitamin A palmitate and Vitamin D3 added
    Cost: $1.69 for 1 quart Comments: "Tastes like regular milk though ... hard to drink (I've been drinking almond milk for years." "This is obviously dairy but ..." "Whiter, so I imagine real?" "Tastes real." "Ew." "Tastes like normal milk." "Pretty sure this is just regular milk."
    Rating (out of 10) 6.6

    Silk Soy Milk
    Ingredients: Soy milk (filtered water, whole soybeans), cane sugar, sea salt, carrageenan, natural flavor, tricalcium phosphate, calcium carbonate, Vitamin A palmitate, Vitamin D2, Riboflavin (B2), Vitamin B12
    Cost: $2.50 for 1 quart Comments: "Vanilla-y and sweet, nice!" "Not milk-colored. Almond?" "This tastes better!" "No. Gross. Looks gross, has a weird color, tastes not like milk." "Rice milk! Or sweetened almond milk?" "Slightly sweet and nutty, darker color." "Not as bad as I was expecting, a little thick."
    Rating (out of 10): 5.6
  • MAYO
    Gabriela Landazuri Saltos
    Hellman's Real Mayonnaise
    Ingredients: Soybean oil, water, whole eggs and egg yolks, vinegar, salt, sugar, lemon juice concentrate, calcium disodium EDTA (used to protect quality), natural flavors
    Cost: $4.09 for 11.5 fl. oz. Comments: "Could barely taste it." "Vegan -- but good similar taste." "Hate both -- can't tell the difference though." "Taste identical, no clue." "So good." "Tastes like mayo." Rating (out of 10): 5.3
    Earth Balance MindfulMayo Dressing & Sandwich Spread
    Ingredients: Expeller-pressed canola oil, water, brown rice syrup, apple cider vinegar, pea protein, salt, mustard flour, lemon juice concentrate
    Cost: $3.19 for 1 pint Comments: "Also couldn't even taste." "Hate both -- can't tell the difference though." "Taste identical, no clue." "Not enjoying this." "Vinegar taste, salty."
    Rating (out of 10): 4.2
    Gabriela Landazuri Saltos
    Brat Hans Chicken Maple Apple Breakfast Links
    Ingredients: Chicken raised without antibiotics, water, maple sugar, contains less than 2% of the following: brown sugar, salt, natural flavors, yeast extract, maple syrup
    Cost: $6.99 for 12 oz Comments: "Nice and smoky, kielbasa-like, great texture." "Didn't taste like meat, spices were good, likely vegan." "This is pretty terrible and greasy." "Delicious." "Sweet, a little slimy." "Yum." "Pretty good."
    Rating (out of 10): 5.8
    Original Field Roast Grain Meat Co. Apple Maple Breakfast Sausage Ingredients: Filtered water, vital wheat gluten, expeller pressed safflower oil, non-sulphured dried apples, naturally flavored yeast extract, maple syrup, barley malt, onion powder, garlic, natural hickory smoke flavor with torula yeast, spices, sea salt, black pepper, ginger and nutmeg
    Cost: $5.99 for 9.31 oz. Comments: "Sugary, syrupy, grain-like texture." "Hated the texture, far too chewy." "Well-spiced, flavored but sponge-y consistency." "Tastes like Thanksgiving stuffing! It's not meat, but actually tastes better than meat." "Was disgusting ... I'm sorry I spit it out." "Not going to lie, I love the taste of fake meat." "Dry, chewy weird sweet after-taste." "Not good." "Rubbery."
    Rating (out of 10): 3.5
    Gabriela Landazuri Saltos
    Applegate Naturals Uncured Pepperoni
    Ingredients: Pork, sea salt, contains less than 2% of the following: dextrose, celery powder, spices, paprika, paprika extract, garlic, lactic acid starter culture (not from milk)
    Cost: $4.29 for 5 oz. Comments: "Yum, pizza." "Yum!" "Legit." "This is real pepperoni. If it's not, I will happily go vegan." "Tastes like a Lunchables ... can't be vegan." "Looks beautiful though." "Salty, greasy, meaty." "It's pepperoni." "The real deal."
    Rating (out of 10): 8.5
    Yves Veggie Cuisine Veggie Pepperoni
    Ingredients: Water, isolated soy protein, vital wheat gluten, tofu (soybeans), spices, dehydrated garlic & onion, natural flavors (contains torula & autolyzed yeast extract), sea salt, evaporated cane syrup, wheat starch, guar gum, vitamins & minerals (di-magnesium phosphate, ferric orthophosphate, zinc oxide, niacinamide, vitamin b-12, calcium pantothenate, thiamine hydrochloride, copper sulphate, riboflavin, folic acid, iron oxide), expeller pressed canola oil, beet powder & extractive of paprika (for color), carrageenan gum. Contains wheat and soy.
    Cost: $2.79 for 4.2 oz Comments: "Bland, disturbing texture, spicy on finish, then soy aftertaste." "Chewy texture, strong spices, probably vegan." "Has strong pepperoni flavor but consistency is ... gummy?" "This is rubber that's been melted down and disguised as food. I never want to eat this again. Dogs wouldn't eat this." "This looks vegan, weird texture but good but can't be real, spicy." "Spicy and heavenly. But terrifying appearance. You look like plastic, veggie pepperoni?" "Dirt, sandpaper, pepper, very dry." "Pretty tasteless." "Fake, kind of gross."
    Rating (out of 10): 3.3
    Gabriela Landazuri Saltos
    Nestle Coffee-Mate French Vanilla
    Ingredients: Water, sugar, vegetable oil (high oleic soybean and/or partially hydrogenated soybean and/or partially hydrogenated cottonseed) and less than 2% of sodium caseinate (a milk derivative), mono and diglycerides, dipotassium phosphate, natural and artificial flavors, cellulose gel, cellulose gum, carrageenan
    Cost: $2.99 for one pint Comments: "I don't use creamer, but this tastes like toasted caramel. Rich ... good in small doses." "Vegan? It's so good though! Similar to the other one." "So sugary. But delicious." "Damn this coffee is good. This mixes in better with the coffee." Bitter with sweet after-taste." "A little sweet for my taste but fine." "A little artificial but not bad."
    Rating (out of 10): 6
    So Delicious Dairy Free French Vanilla Almond Milk Creamer
    Ingredients: Almond milk (water, almonds), dried cane syrup, natural vanilla flavor, dipotassium phosphate, guar gum, carob bean gum, gellan gum
    Cost: $2.19 for one pint Comments: "Hard to detect flavor, chemical aftertaste, not a fan." "Same as the other version, but less sweet." "Hard to tell on this one." "Really sweet." "Just tastes like watered-down coffee." "Sweet."
    Rating (out of 10): 5.7

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