The world’s dining table is transitioning to natural, meatless alternatives in the name of sustainability. How will futr’s resident carnivore cope?
Food has always been a huge part of my life. As a kid, my maternal grandfather would come by with different types of good eats every other day, thanks to his passion for food and retirement career as a cabbie.
Although he’s since passed on, his habits have certainly rubbed off on me. Getting my driving license meant freedom; not freedom from public transport, but freedom from eating the same old dishes around my home and school.
The love for food has led me to do crazy things like drive 350km up to Selangor for Nasi Lemak, or make a 220km day trip to Yong Peng for roast meats. Holiday itineraries too, obviously, are planned around what’s good to eat in various towns and cities. Does a town have plenty of good food but no attractions to visit? Doesn’t matter, it’ll still be a stopover.
Ask any of my friends to name one thing about me, and they’ll most certainly mention my – ahem – strong dislike for anything that’s a vegetable. So much so, that it’s much easier for me to list the vegetables I eat, rather than the ones I don’t eat.
My idea of a great meal is one that features either crispy roast pork or a good steak as the leading actor, with some sort of carb playing a supporting role. No need for salads or veggies – those are the extras that never get called upon. At this point, you’d probably have guessed (correctly) that any vegetarian or vegan food is off the table for me.
a meatless ordeal.
Interestingly, I have tried vegan fast food several years ago, but not of my own volition. It was a traumatising experience – a burger without meat, without cheese, and served with a mountain of vegetables. <sad carnivore noises>
After that experience, I swore off meatless foods, actively shunning the ever-increasing ‘meat replacement’ options such as Impossible and Beyond. This continued even when restaurants I frequented started offering things like plant-based burgers, pizzas, and even meatballs.
Everything went according to plan up till about three weeks ago. My lovely colleagues hatched a brilliant plan, challenging me to go meatless for some meals – all in the name of journalism (and the environment, of course). I briefly toyed with the idea of trying a meatless burger, but balked at the thought of paying in excess of $20; I could get a nice Black Angus cheeseburger for that money!
So I thought I’d start small. Perusing an online supermarket, I spotted these ‘Quorn’ branded nuggets, which were shaped identical to regular chicken nuggets but had “proudly meat free” emblazoned across the packaging. Interesting – so, three days after checking out my cart, they were delivered to the doorstep of futr HQ.
Simply sampling them wasn’t quite exciting enough, thus my colleague Samantha helpfully offered to add a twist to it. Instead of just frying up these Quorn nuggets, they’d be served next to a plate of regular meat nuggets. I’d then have to guess which meat was, and which was meat-free.
Here’s what was presented to me. On the left were the Quorn meat-free nuggets, while on the left were regular chicken nuggets. Both types of nuggets were pan-fried in oil, rather than deep-fried. Before the ‘experiment’ was over, I was unaware of which nuggets were on each plate, nor did I know what brand of chicken nuggets was used as a control variable.
They both looked, well, like nuggets. They were nearly the same shade of golden-brown, and the shapes were all uneven like you’d expect nuggets to be. I guessed that there might be some clue due to the difference in shape of the charred patch, but I wasn’t entirely sure.
Result: Inconclusive. At this point, I really couldn’t tell which was which.
I continued by giving both plates a sniff. Because they were pan-fried and left out for a while prior to the taste test, there weren’t much clues for my nose to go by. The chicken nuggets smelled faintly like oil, while the Quorn nuggets didn’t seem to have any smell at all.
Result: Still inconclusive. I found it odd that one of the plates didn’t have any smell, but because the other smelled more of oil than anything else, it was hard to tell.
I cut them both into half to see if I could visually tell which was which. The chicken nuggets had an organic, non-uniform texture, while the Quorn nuggets looked unusually smooth and uniform. The appearance of the Quorn nuggets was extremely pleasing for my OCD, but my tastebuds raised alarm bells.
Result: Could make an educated guess. Chicken nuggets are the furthest from natural food, but I figured that even processed chicken couldn’t possibly look that smooth.
The final, and most conclusive test. Not knowing how plant-based meat tastes and what brand of chicken nuggets were used, I lacked a benchmark to refer to.
Nonetheless, I first popped half a chicken nugget into my mouth, and it seemed to taste like chicken – they didn’t taste quite as strong as the ones you’d get at McDonald’s. The fact that they had left the frying pan over an hour ago didn’t help.
Now, the Quorn nuggets. I could almost immediately tell that they weren’t chicken, with a plant-y, soy-like taste once I bit into them. They also had a slightly mild sour aftertaste to them, similar to what you’d get from fried tau kwa, or firm tofu.
Result: Extremely obvious. The plant-based nuggets tasted nothing like chicken.
Having tried both plant- and meat-based nuggets side by side, my loyalty still remains for the carnivorous option. That said, the Quorn nuggets are a commendable effort for what they are, and I’ll give the lack of chicken taste a pass. After all, they never claimed to be chicken…
Of course, this is just the first in the series of my meat-free adventures. While waiting for my next one, why not check out some nature themed spas here!