Some plant-based bacon brands work well for the environmentally conscious or the vegetarian-curious.
Bacon is a sort of culinary wonder, a crown jewel of pork products. What other single foodstuff succeeds at being naturally sweet, salty and fatty, and crisp and chewy all in one bite? Because of all that makes up this wonder, replicating such a signature taste and texture with plant-based alternatives can be a challenge.
Nevertheless, plant-based bacon alternatives are easy enough to find, and some of the substitutes work well for the environmentally conscious or the vegetarian-curious.
After a fast start, the plant-based-food industry slowed down during the last two years. Still, plant-based meat alternatives are far more common and widespread than they were five years ago. With $5.23 billion in sales in 2022, the plant-based-meat industry is expected to hit $18.96 billion by 2030, according to a recent report.
I tried four varieties of plant-based bacon, most pretty easy to find at major grocery chains, to see which I liked best. Note, I'm not an experienced food critic. I just like bacon.
Many of the ones I tried included wheat gluten and plant-based proteins like soy protein isolate in their ingredients list. What all the plant-based bacons evidently have in common is that they aren't made with meat or meat products.
So why try plant-based bacon? Maybe you're interested in reducing red meat consumption, which scientists have linked to a higher susceptibility to cancer, heart disease and diabetes. Maybe you learned that March 20 is Great American Meat Out Day and now you're trying to adopt a more vegetarian or flexitarian lifestyle for environmental reasons and you're looking to cut out meat products.
Whatever the reason you're interested in plant-based bacon, here's my not-so-objective ranking of five popular brands.
I conducted a taste test with plant-based bacon I cooked at home, and my roommates participated in trying the bacons, too. After the initial taste test, I tried the bacon throughout the week with different meals, making eggs and bacon and BLTs, to see which bacon worked best. As this is a taste test, your opinion and preferences may vary from mine.
From worst to best, here are a few plant-based bacon alternatives to try, and a few to avoid.
Lightlife's Smart Bacon, commonly available at select Whole Foods and Target outlets, tastes more like veggie bologna, or processed meat that sat in water for two weeks, than bacon. Made with wheat gluten and soy protein isolate, the strips began to fall apart in the pan as they cooked, making them the most difficult to work with. There's little to no chew or resistance to the bacon, I found, in comparison with some of the sturdier meat alternatives, and a meaty, umami taste was absent from the cooked product. Too mushy, too salty, not smoky, not meaty.
Sweet Earth's Benevolent Bacon doesn't nail the texture of bacon, but it packs a smoky, meaty, flavorful punch. When I cooked it up, it was more limp than it was crispy. But what it lacks in textural similarities, it nails in a flavorful meat alternative that could hold its own in a sandwich or served with breakfast. The Benevolent Bacon tasted a little more like a pork roast than bacon, but that's due to the sage and garlic that's included in Sweet Earth's bacon. It's available at Whole Foods and Walmart.
Umaro's plant-based bacon is toe-to-toe with Hooray Bacon. Umaro nails the texture and the salty-fatty taste of a strip of bacon, and it balances the textural component of crispy, wavy shards and chewy bits. The downside, though, is its lack of availability. You can find Umaro bacon in select US restaurants, but it isn't available for retail, unless you're trying to spend $80 or more on 255 slices of plant-based bacon. I tried it at Egg Shop in New York City, but there are plenty of restaurants (most of them on the coasts) that serve Umaro. According to Umaro's website, the company is expanding quickly and coming to even more restaurants in the US soon.
Though Hooray Bacon was a bit finicky to cook, its chewy texture, umami taste and widespread availability (find it at select Whole Foods) makes it the tastiest and most accessible plant-based bacon on the list. Keep the heat low under your pan and watch over the bacon, and you'll have no problem cooking it at home. As it cooked, I could hear the signature sizzle on the stove, and once the bacon was ready, there was a nice balance between the chewy, tender parts and the crispy, shattery border. I tried Hooray Bacon on a homemade BLT and realized that I couldn't taste a lack of meatiness in the sandwich whatsoever. While it doesn't capture all the smokiness of classic applewood bacon, it's pretty dang close for a meat alternative.
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