Earlier this year we learned that Google co-founder Sergey Brin had spent some $332,000 to fund research that produced a 5-ounce burger from stem cells. The thing apparently didn't taste very good. And the market for $332,000 burgers is quite small. So the whole experiment was a bit of a disaster, or a valuable learning experience, depending on your point of view.
We understand Brin's interest. Most of the vegan substitutes for animal-based products developed over the years have been less-than-wonderful. But there are exceptions. Many of them only newly arrived on store shelves.
Here are our picks for the five best brands to use as substitutes for animal-based foods:
The cheese substitutes from Daiya are made from cassava and arrowroot. They taste wonderful. More importantly, they have a consistency similar to cheese and melt in the same way that cheese does. That's made the products, which debuted in 2008, tremendously popular with vegan cooks and other food manufacturers.
2. TURTLE MOUNTAIN
The privately held Turtle Mountain (not to be confused with Tofurky maker Turtle Island Foods) gave the world a stunningly good line of dairy-free frozen desserts. We're a bit partial to Purely Decadent Chocolate Brownie Almond. But really, you can't go wrong with anything in the Purely Decadent super premium line. Turtle Mountain's So Delicious Dairy Free line of premium treats ain't bad either.
3. BEYOND MEAT
Prior to the 2012 debut of Beyond Meat, the chicken substitute invented by a guy who grew up around chickens, we have no memory of any other animal-food substitute attracting rave reviews. But Beyond Meat got tons of them. From everyone. It seems as if the company may be the first to have successfully created a product that cooks like meat, tastes like meat and feels like meat when you chew it.
4. HAMPTON CREEK FOODS
It's neither an exaggeration nor an insult to say that Hampton Creek's biggest accomplishment so far is to have attracted high-profile investors and an extraordinarily level of media attention. Hampton Creek's media penetration has been substantial enough to prompt a counterattack from the egg industry—something we have never seen happen with any other animal-food alternative. The startup is also producing some interesting substitutes for animal-based foods. It's most well-known products are Just Mayo, a dairy- and egg-free alternative to mayonnaise; and Beyond Eggs, which is aimed at food manufactures.
5. MAY WAH VEGETARIAN MARKET
We have no idea how vegetarians can live if they are not within commuting distance of New York City's Chinatown. First, there are more vendors selling more greens per square foot than anywhere else in this country. Second, May Wah Vegetarian Market is there on Hester Street. We're not vegan. We're not even vegetarian. We're just one of the growing number of folks who fit into that weird flexitarian demographic. And we shop at May Wah all the time. Because May Wah is where we buy the vegan chicken legs we serve at vegan-friendly parties. And it's the only place we know of that sells a vegan substitute for squid. Just try and find that at the Hampton Creek lab.