Back when I went vegetarian on Earth Day in 1988... some 29 years ago... it was not a terribly difficult decision. The girl I was dating was a vegetarian. I didn't like much meat anyway (outside of burgers, bacon, and pepperoni pizza), and there were some great "fake meats" hitting the market that I was able to substitute with little effort.
But there are times...
Back when we had a Burger King in town, I'd drive by the place while smelling the flame-cooked burgers filling the air, and give serious consideration to abandoning vegetarianism. Or I'd go to a breakfast buffet and see a big ol' plate of bacon and be transfixed... and be trying to resist shoving my face into the plate. Pepperoni was the worst. Pepperoni pizza. REAL pepperoni crisps up on the edges and forms little cups filled with meat oil that makes them about the most delicious thing you'll ever put in your mouth. And, unlike veggie burgers and veggie bacon that's "okay"... there is no acceptable pepperoni substitute that tastes anywhere close to the original.
If I ever fall off the vegetarian bandwagon, I can pretty much guarantee it will be over a pepperoni pizza.
What it won't be over is jerky.
Because there are some very good jerky substitutes out there, and I decided to take a look at some of the most highly-rated...
Photos taken from FakeMeats.com
Lightlife Meatless Smart Jerky: Original
Hands-down my favorite of the bunch. It's got a fantastic texture that retains a bit of the toughness that "real" jerky has, but won't rip your teeth out. The shreds are compressed into square-isa pieces, which also makes them easy to eat. Unlike so many fake jerky products, the flavor is subtle. They aren't trying to blast through your tastebuds to conceal the fact that you're not eating meat. This is a mild jerky that counts on subtle notes of a sweet and smoky barbecue sauce for flavor instead of piling on the heat to obliterate it. If it weren't for the 480mg sodium per ounce, you could eat it all day! (though high sodium is typical for these products).
TASTE: ★★★★★ • TEXTURE: ★★★★★
Louisville Vegan Jerky Co.: Maple Bacon
Despite my not tasting much maple or bacon flavor in the maple bacon variety, this is a very good brand of jerky. Perhaps a touch sweeter than I'd like, but nothing horrible. I do get a slight soy flavor lingering on my palette, but not offensively so... it's certainly better that than an over-flavored jerky! The texture is pleasing... not too tough, not too soft. Pieces are randomly shaped into strips that are meant to resemble actual jerky, so if you're transitioning, this might be a good brand to start. Sodium is a typical 480mg per ounce.
TASTE: ★★★★☆ • TEXTURE: ★★★★☆
Louisville Vegan Jerky Co.: Smoked Black Pepper
Despite being the same brand as above, the texture is softer/spongier for some reason, and I'm not getting as great a "jerky experience." It's like the jerky is soggy or something. The smoke and black pepper elements are there, as promised, but most of what I'm tasting here is salt. It's only 20mg more than the Maple Bacon (500mg vs. 480mg) but after eating it for a while, that's all I can taste. Would be a better jerky if they could toughen up the texture (like Maple Bacon) and take out salt while adding a touch more black pepper.
TASTE: ★★★☆☆ • TEXTURE: ★★☆☆☆
May Wah Vegan Beef Jerky
This Chinese jerky has an interesting texture that's more "shredded" than other brands. I like it... but it also gets stuck in my teeth. The flavor is... odd... not really barbecue or smoke, though I get a hint of something similar. It's got a definite mustard element floating in there... and it's going in more of a sweet than spicy direction. Overall I don't dislike it... it's definitely different and tasty... it just isn't hitting my "jerky button" the way I'd like.
TASTE: ★★☆☆☆ • TEXTURE: ★★★☆☆
Stonewall's Jerquee: Original Mild
Stonewall's was my first vegetarian jerky. I had never tasted anything like it, and was buying it by the case at my local health food store. Then... after a year or so... something changed with the flavors. The "Original Mild" ended up with a horribly bitter flavor that left a nasty soy aftertaste. And while the texture is weird and spongy, I always ignored it because I liked the flavor so much. Now, after a decade of avoiding the stuff, I decided to try it again. Same thing. Same spongy texture. Same bitter flavor and soy aftertaste.
TASTE: ★☆☆☆☆ • TEXTURE: ★★☆☆☆
Stonewall's Jerquee: Original Wild
Same as above, except they pile on peppers and spices to add some heat. The heat does quash the bitter notes a bit, but I really don't like the end result.
TASTE: ★☆☆☆☆ • TEXTURE: ★★☆☆☆
Stonewall's Jerquee: Peppy Pepperoni
Back in the day, I thought the "pepperoni" flavor was pretty good. But now it's added to the same bitterness that has taken over the rest of the Stonewall's line and, even worse, has been made scorching spicy hot. So hot that any "pepperoni" notes are obliterated. If I wanted this flavor, I'd just drink a smokey hot sauce directly from the bottle.
TASTE: ☆☆☆☆☆ • TEXTURE: ★★☆☆☆
Primal Strips: Texas BBQ
This stuff is tough, like real jerky, but they inexplicably soak it in sauce, so it ends up being more like a tough strip of meat in marinade than actual jerky. Your teeth will slide over the wet before you can get a bite, and even then you may not be able to bite all the way through on the first chomp. The flavor is not bad at all... it's definitely a sweet barbecue variety flavor... but once you get past the sugary-sweetness it's a little bland, having very little smoke elements.
TASTE: ★☆☆☆☆ • TEXTURE: ☆☆☆☆☆
That's it for this round. As I discover more great vegetarian jerky options, I'll update the list.
And if you're looking to purchase any of these products, you can get them all via one-stop-shopping from the good people at FakeMeats.com!