Flavor, texture, color, aroma play a huge role in the products engineered to taste, look, feel and smell like something they’re not.
For me it’s all about the essence. I don’t want a food that tastes so much like a real cow, pig or chicken that I can’t tell the difference. Nobody likes to be fooled to that extent, and neither do I. However, if it isn’t pleasing to the senses, then what’s the point? It doesn’t help the animals for an animal consumer to eat an animal-free product, not like it and never try another, or to expect an animal consumer to try a non-animal product that hasn’t been developed to its full flavor, texture, color and aroma potential.
With animal-free meats particularly, there are other factors that come into play: How does it feel against the teeth, and against the actual flesh part of one’s own palate and tongue?
How do the salivary glands respond to the animal-free quality of the product that is supposed to serve as a substitute or alternative? And then, the after-taste. Some animal-free meats by themselves won’t win a prize, but combine them in a sandwich or other dish and the story changes for the better, much better!
I do not want to eat something that’s ‘not bad’. How many times have we heard people say those very words when tasting a vegetarian dish? They’ll chew, chew, stick out their lower lip to sniff and say, “not bad”. Although there are some really good products on the market today, when you get a bad one, you don’t forget it. And there are people out there who seemingly don’t have taste buds, who are in business to sell you something that actually turns your salivary glands dry.
I’ve been engineering vegetarian recipes since the early ’70′s without tofu or substitute flesh meat or dairy. I didn’t see the point of giving up meat, then eating a meat substitute. I don’t have to eat veggie-grain-soy based meats and dairy in order to be animal-free.
There’s nothing written in a rule book that demands that of me. I could go the rest of my life with no meat or dairy substitutes/alternatives and savor every meal without them. Why do I want sausage on my pizza, when I don’t eat meat?
However, once I wrapped my head around the animal-free sausage mimicking flavors and textures created by the cooking process and not particularly those of the suffering animal, I became more alert to the essence of the way people, for thousands of years, have been making dead animals taste via the cooking process to make them palatable. The same process can be used in the preparation of any plant-based food.
For example, most people don’t eat raw animals. At the very least, they hold it over an open flame to char it. Humans like that charred taste against the fat and fibers of the meat.
Well, you can do that with animal-free foods too. You just have to know how, when and with what foods to do it. After cooking with animal-free meats I discovered that it’s not as simple-minded as the box instructions lead one to believe. Thank goodness for that, since we’re not limited to a strict interpretation as to how to prepare them.
The vegan meats and dairy products I use and like, thus recommend, are at a level whereby any improvements made would be a bonus.
However, sometimes the improvements one wants to see in a product can be accomplished by the way the consumer prepares it. Frankly, I think most animal-free meat and dairy producers don’t know what can be done with their own animal-free products to make them taste and texture great. That’s where the cook comes in. A farmer can give you a slab of flesh, but it’s the cook who makes it taste good enough to eat.
For instance, some veggie meats have this annoying sweak-to-the-tooth quality as you chew them. When in a sandwich you don’t notice it, but if I’m making a veggie sausage tomato sauce, again, it’s annoying. What I’ve found is that if I let the cooked sauce with the veggie sausage in it sit overnight in the refrigerator, it disappears. It’s probably the acid from the tomatoes that does it. Not all brands do it. Maybe some people like the sweak; I don’t know.
As I said earlier in Chef’s Compass: “My goal is to make animal-free taste great. We use fresh, raw, canned, frozen, vacuum packed, dried and some processed foods. Although our simultaneous goal is good nutrition, we don’t eliminate salt, sugar and fats that would otherwise compromise the flavor and keep you from wanting more”.
Remember, your refrigerator-freezer is a pantry too! Keep it clean and neat!