Whether you’re trying to eat better or make ethical choices, bacon is a hard food to sub out. I was veg for 20 years, and when I tried bacon again I felt like everyone had been holding out on me. I’d been satisfying the craving with MorningStar Farms veggie bacon product, which is solid, yet…not bacon. Still, there are many reasons not to eat real bacon. So BackpackMr. and I recently decided to conduct our own taste test of fake bacon, all of them vegan, to see if we could find a substitute to serve at home–something better for us, better for the planet, and better for the animals.
Now these products aren’t cheap, but let’s be honest, neither is bacon. Ounce for ounce, the pricing is comparable. And as a bonus, swapping to these products may enable you to take your cardiologist off speed dial.
Yes, we took one for the team, so you don’t have to. And we happily marinated in our bacony-scented home for eons afterward! Brooklyn Hound’s nose was twitching with pleasure, and during our taste test she was convinced we were hogging real bacon and giving her none.
So, here we go with The Great Fakin’ Bacon Taste Test!
Sweet Earth Benevolent Bacon
A beautiful product and relatively new to the market. We were most excited to try this one. No matter how long I cooked it, though, I could not get it to crisp up like bacon should. I’d love to know the secret to making that happen.
- Appearance: Appealing. Great appearance. Smoke rim.
- Flavor: Maple-like flavor, with a sweetness different than the others.
- Texture: Softer, chewy. Cooked for a long time but couldn’t get crisp.
- Smell: Charcoal, sweet.
- Other notes: “Meatiest” texture of the options.
- Flavor: Sweet BBQ
- Texture: Strong
- Smell: Like KC BBQ
(Full Disclosure: BackpackMr. loves Kansas City BBQ.)
Lightlife Smart Bacon
This product has been on the market for some time now, and it is a solid player.
- Flavor: Smoky, salty
- Texture: Crunchy, chewy, bacon-like
- Smell: ham
- Notes: Most like bacon.
- Flavor: Smoky
- Texture: Not “bacon,” but good.
- Smell: smooth like 70s cologne
Upton Naturals Bacon Seitan
I had high hopes for this one. Upton Naturals has been coming out with some interesting and innovative products, in particular their jackfruit “meats.” Here, I think it’s safe to say, they missed.
- Flavor: Could use more smoke, bland. Tastes burnt and bitter on edges.
- Texture: Chewy, crunchy, nice texture.
- Smell: Light smoke
- Other notes: Easy to overcook if trying to crisp, product gets hard and bitter.
- Flavor: Bland
- Texture: Mealy
- Smell: Plastic-y
Lightlife Smoky Tempeh
Not a wheat meat, this tempeh product would be a good option for anyone who actually does not want meat analogs, or the texture of meat, but would still like to have a little smoky flavor in their meal. We actually enjoyed the flavor of this product, though the texture was the most un-bacon-like.
- Flavor: Nice smoke, lingering smoky flavor. Best flavor of those tested.
- Texture: Strange. Chunky. (Tempeh eaters will be used to this texture but for veg bacon newbies, it may be odd.)
- Smell: Bologna.
- Other notes: Most unlike bacon.
- Flavor: Minimal
- Texture: Flat
- Smell: None
I regret that I did not have hickory smoked bacon from The Herbivorous Butcher on hand, which most certainly would have been at or near the top of the list. It is thick cut, has a nice chew/crunch balance and great flavor. Some of you may remember the BLT I made with HB bacon. MMMMmmmmmmm.
Okay, that said, here are the rankings!
The The Great Fakin’ Bacon Taste Test Winner:
Sweet Earth Benevolent Bacon. This was BackpackMr.’s #1 choice, and RBG’s #2 for the difficulty in getting the product to crisp up. Its smoky sweetness was delicious, but the smoky flavor was muted on a sandwich of avocado, tomatoes and onions on whole wheat. Eaten straight, this would be an enjoyable, bacon-like side.
The Runner Up:
Lightlife Smart Bacon. RBG ranked this option #1 for flavor and texture, and the saltiness matched very well with the avocado on the sandwich, bringing a good amount of flavor to the party. BackpackMr. chose this as his #2, noting that it was a good option.
Lightlife Smoky Tempeh. For those not bothered by the non-bacony texture, this tempeh product brings lots of savory smoke to the plate, and is an excellent option for those looking for a source other than animal protein to lend umami to their meal.
Upton Bacon Seitan. This product should have stayed in R&D longer. Its texture and flavor are both, sadly, a letdown.
All of these products were easily found at Whole Foods, and can likely be found at a health food store or food co-op near you.
Go forth, and breakfast like the sensible, heart-healthy kings and queens you are!
What veggie bacon products would you recommend?
Charish Badzinski is an explorer and award-winning travel and food writer. When she isn’t working to build her blog: Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World, she applies her worldview to her small business, providing strategic communications, media relations and writing support to her clients.
Find Charish on Twitter: @charishb
Rollerbag Goddess Rolls the World by Charish Badzinski is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.