In a previous post, I shared my experience following a vegan diet for a month. This week I’m going to talk about some of the vegan products I tried during that time. Some of them were a hit, others… Eh, not so much. Here are 10 items I tried!
1. Lightlife Smart Ground
This product was easily one of my favorites that was recommended by a friend. Unlike many other faux meat products I’ve tried over the years, this really does have a remarkably close taste and texture to original ground beef. You do have to keep in mind with substitute products nothing is going to taste “exactly like the real thing” unless you are actually eating the “real thing”, but this product does a remarkable copy-cat job (especially with the right seasonings). I utilized it in wraps, tacos, casseroles, and vegan lasagna. On one occasion, I snuck it into one side of my husband’s regular lasagna and he didn’t notice a difference between the half with Smart Ground and the half with regular ground meat. I give it a thumbs up and still buy it at the grocery store from time to time.
2. Earth Balance Buttery Spread
I don’t use much butter in my cooking, but I do incorporate it occasionally for certain recipes or baking. Earth Balance Buttery Spread does a fairly good job mimicking its dairy counterpart in texture and consistency. The flavor differs from traditional butter, but not in a bad way. Just different. As a comfort eater, I was less inclined to spread it over a piece of toast or muffin because I didn’t find the flavor as homey as traditional butter but I was all about using it in baking, caramelizing veggies or tossing it into a good onion roast or squash bake. Keep in mind, just this product is vegan doesn’t automatically make it “healthier” for you than regular butter. It still has a high fat and calories concentration, so you would still need to use it in moderation.
3. Go Veggie Cheddar
I’ve tried cheese substitutes in the past, sometimes to my own misfortune. Like I said, nothing other than the real deal is going to taste exactly like the real deal, so you have to keep an open mind with meat and dairy substitutes. Go Veggie Cheddar substitute does a fair job in trying to copycat the look and texture of shredded cheese, doing a much better job than previous brands I’ve tried. I wouldn’t go so far as to dump a pile of it on some tortilla chips for nachos, but the veggie cheddar did work pretty well in conjunction with some recipes. Overall, it was okay. While I wasn’t blown away, it was leaps ahead of a vegan cheese I tried years back (don’t ask me what brand, I’ve blocked it from my memory) that made me want heave all over my shoes after consumption. I’d use this brand again if I was making vegan lasagna, but probably not for much else.
4. Tofutti Cream Cheese
Tofutti brags that their dairy-free spread is better than cream cheese. Coming from a girl who loves a little bit of bagel with her cream cheese, I don’t know if it’s better than the original, it’s pretty darn good nonetheless. It carries the same velvety texture as cream cheese and adds a delightful dose of creaminess in wraps, sauces, and various dishes. I enjoyed it more mixed in with recipes than by itself on a piece of bread. It does come in a few flavors, like garlic and herbs, french onion and herbs and chives (I especially liked the garlic and herbs). I thoroughly enjoyed this product and would use it again.
One disclaimer would be that it does carry a small amount of trans fat, which is often deemed the evil villain of the fatty world. If you are very conscientious about avoiding trans fat in your diet, you could try another brand, Follow Your Heart Vegan Gourmet Cream Cheese. I haven’t tried it, but heard positive things about it, like that has zero trans fat and slightly higher levels of fiber and protein.
5. Tofutti Better Ricotta Cheese
Since I enjoyed their cream cheese, I decided to try Tofutti’s version of ricotta cheese, which carried a very similar consistency to regular ricotta. I had a mad hankering for lasagna one week and used this in recreating a vegan version of the dish (recipe here). Since I don’t just sit around eating spoonfuls of ricotta, I didn’t find the flavor difference especially noticeable since it was incorporated into a larger, more flavorful dish. I can’t vouch for how it would taste in a vegan version of a cannoli (or what kind of Italian purgatory that might send you to for attempting without true ricotta), but it worked well the lasagna. I’d use it again in recreating that or a similar dish.
6. Egg Replacer
This was gifted to me by my mother during my vegan experiment. It’s an egg replacement product designed specifically for baking (not for faux scrambled eggs, somewhat to my initial disappointment). The box states that it contains no eggs or dairy, but it’s not an official vegan product, so I Googled the full list of ingredients just to make sure it was indeed vegan-friendly. It comes with a list of recipe possibilities on the box, from muffins and cakes to quiche and whipped cream. I mainly utilized it for pancakes and protein muffins, both of which turned out splendidly. I didn’t notice too much difference in terms of density (though the muffins rose slightly less in the oven) and no difference in flavor. Overall, I give it a thumbs up for usefulness and flavor.
7. Lenny and Larry’s Complete Cookie
I’ve actually already reviewed this product in the past, but am referencing it here because it is a vegan product. To see the full review, click here.
8. So Delicious Coconut Milk Yogurt
I’ve always loved adding yogurt into my shakes and smoothies. Coconut yogurt can be a little harder to find in some grocery stores and a little pricier, but Publix carries this brand. It does feel thinner with a milder flavor than regular yogurt, but you could possibly try straining it to achieve a thicker consistency or add fruit to spruce up the flavor. I mainly add it into blended drinks for extra texture. It was okay. Not mind-blowing, but sufficient to possibly satisfy a yogurt craving. It doesn’t contain as much nutritional value or protein as Greek yogurt (which was a large part of my motivation in adding it into blended drinkers), so I enjoyed it as a novelty treat but wasn’t motivated to continue buying it for my regular routine.
9. Veggie Elite Performance Protein Powder
Since I began weightlifting, I like drinking protein shakes after a heavy training session. I wanted a vegan-friendly protein powder during my experiment and researched consumer reviews in hopes of finding something dependable, in my budget and with an enjoyable flavor. An 8.9-star review led me to Veggie Elite Chocolate Mocha Protein. It had good reviews from vegan and non-vegan consumers and the flavor contained two of my favorite things: Coffee and chocolate. What could be better?
I don’t know who was giving this stuff an 8.9, but part of me would like to find them and hurl this container at them. I’m not sure which part of this was supposed to be chocolate and which like mocha, but it was thick, chalky and left a funky aftertaste in my mouth and a sorrow in my heart. I would try to speed-chug it for two reasons: A) to get it over with quickly and B) because if it sat too long, it started taking on a goopy consistency like a congealed pudding. Honestly, I tried to use it all (mainly because I paid over $30 for it), but nothing else I could add in along with it helped. I eventually realized life was too short to spend choking down grody protein powder, so I gave up on it about a third of the way through the container. I won’t say it was the worst protein I’ve ever tried, because it certainly wasn’t (that honor goes to a cheap whey powder I tried in college that actually triggered my gag reflex into a nearby sink). But to say I regret this purchase on a deep, spiritual level might be accurate. Maybe it was me. Maybe it was the pea protein. (We’ll probably never know). Either way, all I’ve got to say is nope, nope and nope.
10. Vega Protein Powder
The continued search for protein powder led me to Vega. A friend who uses Vega actually let me try some of her stash after hearing about my vegan protein misfortunes. The Vega brand had a smoother consistency without all the chalkiness of after flavor funk that left me disappointed with Veggie Elite. It also blended better with other flavors (like fruit, chilled coffee or coconut milk added in shakes). Both brands are a blend of plant-based protein sources, but Vega’s blend seemed to jive much better with my taste buds. It might have been a more accurate comparison if I’d tried similar flavors for each brand, but I didn’t feel like investing money into further exploration after discovering something that I liked and met my needs. Overall, I enjoyed the Vega protein. Since having gone back to a pescetarian diet, I’ve switched back onto non-vegan protein powders, some of which I prefer more in terms of flavor directly compared to plant-based protein powders. But if I were going to undergo a vegan diet again in the future, I would definitely opt for the Vega brand based on my experience.
One other product that I tried (but threw away the package before remembering to photograph) was Labrada BCAAs. BCAA’s and amino acids are an important component in my supplement routine and I wanted to make sure I kept them incorporated during my vegan experiment. I looked up brands claiming to be vegan-friendly, came across Labrada and ordered their strawberry kiwi flavor BCAAs. They were okay. Not my favorite (I enjoy a sharper flavor in BCAAs and these felt a little muted, even when I upped the concentration), but I’m probably partly biased by my love of coffee flavored BCAAs. Overall, they were a solid purchase that I could still confidently recommend.
Some of these products I enjoyed enough that I still occasionally incorporate them into meals or snacks. Even if a few didn’t quite hit the mark, it was fun getting to explore and try new things. I should note that I am in no way sponsored by or affiliated with any of these brands or specific products. They are just items I discovered out there and decided to give a whirl! Have you tried any of these products or other vegan products? I’d love to hear your experiences!
(Unless you’re one of the 94 people who gave Veggie Elite Chocolate Mocha an 8.9-star rating. I already know where you stand. Keep those ratings and that pea protein to yourself. You could probably even keep the rest of mine to yourself too, for that matter, since it’s still sitting at the bottom of my pantry.)
All writing and images copyright © 2017 Rachel Elise Weems Woods