What is veganism, anyway?
The vegan lifestyle has been gaining popularity around the world in the last few years. If you’re less familiar with the term, veganism is a way of life that excludes any product of animal origin whether from food or daily life. On the food side, an increasing number of people are going on this diet for several reasons. Plant proteins and plant food such as fruits and vegetables are the focal point.
The range of products designed to make food easier for vegans is still growing. So this creates new kinds of products that we’ve never seen before like faux meat and faux cheese. But which ones do you choose? And are they worth it? We tested 12 vegan products to answer all your questions.
Our tips for trying veganism
Whether for moral, environmental or health reasons or just because you want to be hip, there are many reasons to go vegan. You should know about all the implications this lifestyle entails.
If a vegan diet interests you, here are some practical tips to keep in mind when you transition. Just so you know, we’re not promoting veganism. We’re just trying to educate people on the subject.
Start by transitioning towards vegetarianism
Before you throw yourself into veganism, we suggest you adopt some vegetarian habits first, like not eating meat or fish. This kind of transition takes time, so you should start gradually to make sure you really understand the implications. A vegetarian diet is obviously less restrictive and complex than a vegan one. But it’s a good way to learn and to learn how to cook differently, too.
Find out which food to replace
Since a fair number of ingredients that you normally use aren’t vegan, reading nutritional labels will be an important habit to adopt. The list of ingredients will reveal the most important clues in your quest for vegan food. Start by checking for milk and eggs in the ingredients, for example. Then, refine your search by identifying ingredients with less common names like those starting with lacto.
Experiment with different food
To master vegan recipes, you’ll have to do quite a bit of testing! You should also try different plant proteins available on the market to discover your favourites. Tempeh, tofu, edamame and more will open up a new world of new gourmet recipes.
That said, before experimenting with unknown food, we recommend building a basic vegan-approved pantry. If, however, you’re a little reluctant to embracing vegan cuisine, try transitioning gradually with food substitutes.
To demystify vegan products offered in grocery, we divided our test into 4 broad categories: vegan cheese, meat, yoghurt and milk. We tested 3 to 4 similar products of various brands to find those that stood out from the pack.
To start our test, we tasted a vegan double cream-style cheese made from cashews. This faux cheese got its name from its very creamy texture. It’s a great name because the texture was really creamy. It tasted a little sweet and not very spicy. But we did conclude that its faux appearance could be a turn off for some testers. For the same serving size, the vegan version has more calories and more fat than a comparable Brie. Faux cheese contains three times less protein and four times less sodium than real cheese. Contrary to what you might think, the list of ingredients of this vegan product is short and simple just like real cheese.
Then, we tested a vegan sliced cheese with tomato and cayenne. The way the slices were cut is very similar to traditional cheese. The orange colour and texture were realistic and we didn’t feel like we were eating a vegan product. In terms of taste, the cayenne and chili spices were fairly strong, but pleasant on the palette. We tested this faux cheese on a cracker, but it would also be interesting to try it in a sandwich or grilled cheese. The vegan version has fewer calories, less fat and salt than a regular slice of cheese. Unlike the original version that contains about 5 g of protein per serving, the vegan version doesn’t have any. As for nutrients, the vegan product’s list of ingredients is better than the original’s.
We loved the Gusta brand’s faux cheese for grating because of its sheer versatility. Visually original, this little ball of faux cheese for grating is a real treat. The product can be added to many recipes like in an au gratin, in a fondue, grated or eaten simply as is. It’s strongly reminiscent of food yeast (a food with a cheesy taste often used in vegan food). We tasted it alone cold and mixed into this Arctic Gardens cauliflower burger recipe. The two tests were quite successful. The vegan version has fewer calories and less fat, but contains more saturated fat and sodium than the original version. It’s, therefore, used as a substitute for taste and not for its nutritional value.
We started the test by tasting some faux ground meat. At first glance, the product looks like real cooked ground beef. This vegetable meat cooked very quickly. It can be added to tacos, pasta, lasagna and many other dishes. Without any seasoning, the product was a little bland, but it’s easy to add whatever flavour you want. The texture wasn’t exactly like real meat. The vegan version has almost half the calories of lean ground beef. It also has a lot less fat and a little less protein. However, a really small serving of one-third of a cup contains 270 mg of sodium and two kinds of sugar to add flavour and texture to the plant protein. The list of ingredients is really long with several additives like aromas, thickeners and colouring. You can try this product in our meat lasagna recipe. You won’t see the difference!
Then, we tested some vegan Italian sausages. They were pretty good even though there were a lot of spices. The texture was more or less like normal sausage. We cooked them in a pan with a little oil so they’d brown and have a nice, crispy texture. Pork-based and plant-based sausages have a comparable energy profile, but the vegan version contains almost 10 g more protein than the pork version (for a total of 25 g protein per sausage). The vegan version also has a little less fat than the pork sausage. Because it’s enriched with vitamins and minerals, the vegan sausage contains impressive B12 and iron levels, two nutrients that are fairly rare in vegan diets.
Visually very credible, Gardein’s veggie chicken filets tasted amazingly like chicken! The inside looked like plain, firm tofu and the seasoning was mainly in the breading. We think it’d be a very good replacement product for beginners. Remember that a vegan option doesn’t necessarily mean a healthy one, so it’s important to consume these products sparingly. When comparing a 100 g serving of breaded chicken filets, the vegan version had fewer calories and less fat. The sodium content was high in both cases. We’d like to give a special mention to the vegan version for its high content of protein (14 g per serving), iron and vitamin B12. They can be easily added to this chicken quinoa and veggie recipe.
Soy-based blueberry vegan yoghurt got the ball rolling for this test category. Although visually similar to a classic yoghurt, this yoghurt didn’t taste at all like the dairy-based yoghurt we’re used to. During the test, we were very surprised by its rather acidic, chemical taste. The soy taste was quite pronounced and the blueberry flavour was only present as an aftertaste. But the texture and colour were promising. The product’s nutritional profile is comparable to that of a dairy-based yoghurt. But the original version contains a little more sugar than the vegan one. Vegan yoghurt is comparable to a yoghurt with 3% fat. The two contain several texturing agents and other additives in their ingredients lists.
Moving along, we tasted a faux Greek strawberry yoghurt. It had a slight chemical coconut aftertaste. The product had one negative point: it was hard to know which food was the base. Coconut and tapioca appear in the list of ingredients. The packaging also mentioned that the yoghurt didn’t contain any soy. The texture and colour were like milk-based yoghurts. When we opened the container, we noticed a layer of liquid had formed on top. We had to stir it vigorously to obtain a creamy texture. This yoghurt is comparable to a regular fruit yoghurt. Its nutritional profile was incredible for a plant-based food because it contained far more protein than a normal yoghurt. Its beautiful texture and interesting taste came mainly from several types of sugar, aromas, thickeners and salt.
In the yoghurt category, our favourite was Silk’s unsweetened, cultured coconut yoghurt. Despite its high price compared to other plain yogurts in store, its creamy texture and clear coconut taste make this product a good alternative to traditional yoghurt. Try it with granola, berries or maple syrup to enhance the flavour. If you’re not crazy about plain yoghurt, there’s a plain sweetened yoghurt you might like. It’s low in calories and carbohydrates. One serving contains only 1 g of protein. You’d choose this product just to have something to eat, not as a satisfying snack. The list of ingredients for this kind of product is really short. There is no added sugar, aroma, colouring or vitamin or mineral supplement.
There’s a huge selection of plant-based milk these days. From almond to rice to hemp, there’s something for everyone. Depending on what you want it to use it for, choose your milk wisely. Sweetened vanilla milk isn’t the best for recipes, but it can be an excellent addition to smoothies. Consider trying the plain version with no added sugar for a taste closest to cow’s milk. Depending on what you’re looking for in terms of nutritional intake, each source of milk has its own benefits. For example, soy milk is very rich in protein and almond milk is low in calories. Vegan milk comes in shelf stable Tetra Pak formats in the grocery aisles or refrigerated section. You have to test to find the format that’s best for you.
We started with a vanilla soy milk. It comes in flavours like vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, cappuccino or plain, so soy milk is really versatile. Soybean, however, has a very distinct taste, so be mindful of this before adding it to recipes. The one we tried was only vaguely similar to the taste of cow’s milk. The texture and colour were satisfactory considering that plant-based milk tends to be greyish in colour. In our opinion, vanilla soy milk is made to be drunk alone or added to sweet recipes. Soy milk is the only plant-based drink with a comparable nutritional profile to cow’s milk. In a glass, both contain relatively the same amount of protein, which is excellent for this type of product. But it has a rather long list of ingredients. This includes added sugar, oils, salt, thickeners and aromas. Like most plant-based milk, this product is enriched with vitamins and minerals to resemble real milk.
Next, we tried a vanilla almond milk. The product is generally similar to soy milk without its distinct taste. The almond taste in this milk is much more delicate and subtle. That said, it’s really sweet with 16 g of sugar in a one-cup serving. It’s so creamy, you think you’re drinking heavy cream. For these reasons, the almond milk we tested isn’t comparable to cow’s milk, but rather to a sweetened chocolate milk type of drink. Almond milk is low in fat which is comparable to 1% milk. However, it was the saltiest and sweetest drink tested. Unfortunately, this drink only has 1 g of protein per cup. So it’s a product you’d drink more for taste than for nutrients.
Our favourite vegan milk tested was the So Fresh original cashew nut milk. We really liked its round taste that was just right in the creaminess department. We found that this milk most resembled cow’s milk. The cashew nut taste was light and fresh, and added a delicious touch. It wasn’t exactly white, but the product’s smoothness had a nice mouthfeel. This non-dairy milk is also equivalent to 1% milk in terms of fat. It provides half the carbohydrates of cow’s milk and only 1 g of protein per cup. This product is enriched with more vitamins and minerals just like other milk. We’d like to give this milk a special mention because it was the only one has no natural or artificial flavours.
Veganism – should you or shouldn’t you?
Substitute foods like the ones we tested are convenience foods for people who are curious and want to discover a new type of diet. But you should keep in mind that, in many cases, these products are highly processed and often expensive. According to the rules of the art, someone who’s on a vegan diet would focus on fresh, unprocessed foods, especially plant-based ones.
Finally, it’s important to have a good base in cooking, regardless of the diet you choose. For the vegan diet, legumes, tofu, tempeh, whole grains and more, are excellent versatile and affordable foods for cooking. The vegan diet, like any other diet, has its pros and cons. We do have a habit of putting the plant at the heart of our diet! Let us know in the comments section what vegan food you’d like to try!