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Cutting back on meat in 2022? We taste-tested and ranked 9 protein alternatives

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If you’re wondering how you might upgrade your diet in 2022, know that an army of entrepreneurs hope they have your answer: alternative proteins. They’re using plants, cultured cells and fungi to create meat mimics that taste like beef, chicken, pork and fish. Food columnist Jenn Harris recently led a taste test of several new alt-protein products, many of which are already on the market. Here’s a selection of her findings:

Impossible Foods Burger

It’s made from plants (ingredients include soy and potato proteins), so how close is it to the real thing? Jenn rated it an 8 out of 10. “Of all the alt-proteins we tried, this product most resembled the look of the original — actual ground beef with a pale red color and juice that was almost bloody. … Uncooked, the protein felt like a pile of small, hard, wet nubs that were loosely jammed together. Cooked, it firmed up and had a chew that was similar to the real thing.” (In case you were wondering, the Beyond Meat Beyond Burger rated a 5 out of 10).

Impossible Foods Burger: “Of all the alt-proteins we tried, this product most resembled the look of the original.”

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Impossible Foods Nuggets

They look like a fast-food chicken nugget, even though the base ingredients are wheat flour and soy protein concentrate. And how do they taste? According to Jenn, “almost like a Wendy’s chicken nugget. Almost. But what it lacked in taste, it made up for in appearance and texture.” If you’re wondering how close it is to the real thing — it’s 8 out of 10. “If you add some sweet and sour sauce, 9 out of 10.”

Beyond Chicken Plant-Based Chicken Tenders

The Times taste-testers were displeased with the “tenders” designation. “Because of their rounded shape, they look like elongated nuggets. Calling them a tender is misleading,” Jenn said. However, if you judge the product (its base ingredient is faba bean puree) as a giant nugget, it gets a 6 out of 10 on the “how close it is to the real thing” scale.

A tray of chicken tenders, left, a packet of Beyond Chicken tenders, middle and a plate of the tenders with sauce in a dish

“If you judge the product as a giant nugget, it gets a 6 out of 10 on the ‘how close it is to the real thing’ scale.”

(Beyond Meat)

Meati Chicken mycelium chicken

It looks like a frozen, precooked breast of chicken, yet it’s made from mushroom stems and roots and the threads that make up nature’s fungal network (collectively known as mycelium). “You get the chew of cooked chicken and a rush of juice when you bite into it,” Jenn said. “The sensation is pretty remarkable.” How close is it to the real thing? An 8 out of 10. “For the most part, you think you’re eating chicken.” Stay tuned because the mycelium chicken hasn’t officially launched.

Impossible Sausage Made From Plants

Jenn had favorable things to say about this product, whose base ingredient is soy protein concentrate. “It crumbled like ground pork and had the same satisfying chew.” How close is to the real thing? Nine out of 10. “In a breakfast burrito, it would be a perfect 10.”

Beyond Meat Beyond Breakfast Sausage

Its base ingredient is pea protein but there is “no noticeable differences between the links or patties and the real things.” So how does it taste? “When you cook the sausages in a pan, a thin film forms like a crust on the surface, and it’s sticky. The actual sausage meat is softer and chewier than pork.” The links and patties were on the sweeter side and tasted like sausage that had been dipped in syrup. Taste-testers rated a 6.5 out of 10.

Two packets of Beyond Breakfast Sausage, two plates of patties, two glasses of orange juice and a bowl of home fries

“The links and patties were on the sweeter side and tasted like sausage that had been dipped in syrup.”

(Beyond Meat)

Good Catch Plant-Based Crab Cakes Breaded and Plant-Based Crab Cakes New England Style

Both products (their base ingredient is a six-plant protein blend) resembled crab cakes. “The breaded product had a nice golden crust, and the New England style product looked like lumps of plant-based fish,” Jenn said. The testers were impressed with both versions, especially the New England style. “The chunks of protein were similar to lump crab meat with a variety of sizes pressed together to form the cake.” How close are they to the real thing? Eight out of 10.

A box of Good Catch plant-based crab cakes

“The breaded product had a nice golden crust, and the New England style product looked like lumps of plant-based fish.”

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Good Catch Plant-Based Fish Burgers Classic Style

They’re like “larger versions of the crab cakes with a texture that mirrored lump crab meat.” What about the look and taste? They have a “mild citrus flavor with some onion powder and garlic powder in the mix. You might not mistake it for fish, but it was enjoyable as a well-seasoned patty.” How close it is to the real thing? Six out of 10.

A box of plant-based fish burgers

“You might not mistake it for fish, but it was enjoyable as a well-seasoned patty.”

(Ricardo DeAratanha/Los Angeles Times)

Good Catch Plant-Based Fish Cakes Thai Style

Let’s start with the most important takeaway: This product (whose base ingredient is a six-plant protein blend) rates a 10 out of 10 on the “how close it is to the real thing” scale. There are clumps of protein mashed together like a fish cake with a nice, crisp exterior. “I would actually seek these out, and possibly serve them at a dinner party,” Jenn said. “I can’t remember the last time — or if I’ve ever — eaten a real Thai-style fish cake, but I’d like to think all versions taste similar to this one.”

A box of Good Catch plant-based Thai style fish cakes

“This product rates a 10 out of 10 on the ‘how close it is to the real thing’ scale.”

(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

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