Health experts often propose turkey bacon as a “healthy option” for those who decline to eat pork for either religious or health reasons. While this might seem an excellent alternative to the average health-conscious consumer, the question to ask is “What does it take to turn a turkey into a pig?” Well, dubious ingredients such as hydrolyzed soy protein, canola oil, hydrolyzed corn or wheat gluten, corn syrup, autolyzed yeast extract, “natural” and artificial flavorings and “liquid smoke.”
An even bigger question is “What does it take to turn a soybean into a pig?” More than you most likely want to know! Pig out intelligently with Smart Bacon®—a product advertised as bringing “that hearty bacon taste into the veggie world”—and you’ll get the following ingredients: Water, soy protein isolate, wheat gluten, soybean oil, textured soy protein concentrate, textured wheat gluten, less than 2 percent of natural smoke flavor, natural flavor (from vegetable sources), grill flavor (from sunflower oil), carrageenan, evaporated cane juice, paprika oleoresin (for flavor and color), potassium chloride, sesame oil, fermented rice flour, tapioca dextrin, citric acid, salt.
Yum, and just the thing for vegans following Dr. Neal Barnard of the Physicians Committee for (Ir)responsible Medicine, who recommends Smart Bacon® and similar products for those who crave bacon but want to avoid “the embarrassment” associated with consuming such an unhealthy substance.
How does it taste? I spat it out though the Smart Bacon® folks promised, “you’ll swear you’re back in grandma’s country kitchen (even if she lived in Brooklyn).”
For the “delicious hearty flavor of smoked bacon with a crispy bite” and “44 percent less fat!” try Morningstar Farms Veggie Bacon Strips®. Mavyn McDaniels, a Yahoo Voice reviewer who is eco-conscious, mostly vegan and an avowed fan of Morningstar Farms meat analogue offerings, begged to differ. She started out wanting to like the stuff, and even asked “How bad could the fake stuff be?”
Very bad as it turned out. Given the ingredient list, better her taste-testing this than me! Here it is: egg whites, soybean oil with TBHQ for freshness, textured soy protein concentrate, modified corn starch, wheat gluten, hydrolyzed vegetable protein (corn gluten, wheat gluten, soy). Contains two percent or less of glycerin, salt, soy protein isolate, sodium citrate, sodium phosphate, sugar, natural and artificial flavors from non-meat sources, torula yeast, caramel color, monocalcium phosphate, sodium tripolyphosphate, natural smoke flavor, malic acid, guar gum, yeast extract, locust bean and guar gum, sodium sulfite, carrageenan, red #3, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, niacinamide, iron [ferrous sulfate)], autolyzed yeast extract, nonfat dry milk, yellow #6, vitamin B1 [thiamin mononitrate], vitamin B6 [pyridoxine hydrochloride] vitamin B2 [riboflavin], citric acid, cyanocobalamin.
Here’s what Ms. McDaniels reports:
“The fake bacon is worse than you can possibly imagine. First impressions: when you open the packaging, you’re hit by a pretty assertive synthetic aroma, an almost-but-not-quite right recreation of the meaty, smoky bacon smell. This eerie sort of Bacon Uncanny Valley continued into the visual—this fake bacon just looked like unchewed sticks of gum. It made me anxious—some primordial fear inside me clicked on, because the stuff just does not look like food.
“This product is basically egg whites, soy protein, corn starch, wheat gluten, and vegetable protein—oh boy!—and then, through the magic of science, it’s turned into this white, malleable strip with pinkish-red grainy texture-y stuff applied to the surface. For fun throw in some food coloring, artificial and natural flavorings, stabilizers, and preservatives . . .
“The instructions on the packaging read, ‘Fry over LOW to MEDIUM heat, turning occasionally. DO NOT OVER COOK’— and boy, do they mean it. I don’t know what that pinkish-red grainy texture-y stuff is, but if you’re not careful, it goes from cooked to burnt in an instant. I accidentally burned the hell out of the first batch. To make it even more unappetizing, when cooked, it somehow developed these weird-looking bubbly pimples. When you cook it, it ends up as a dry, thin, crispy cracker.
“How did it taste? I’ll admit: it tastes like bacon. But compared to regular bacon, it’s bad. Really, really bad. Not even close. It’s too square, too artificial, too manufactured. This is supposed to be bacon, where the point is meaty, fatty, salty, smoky flavor.
“Some mad scientists in New Jersey have figured out how to synthesize a facsimile of the smell and flavor of bacon using ‘natural’ and ‘artificial’ flavors. It brings to mind the line by Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park: ‘Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.’ So completely disconnected from the true item, and so repulsive, I couldn’t recommend this product to even my worst vegetarian enemy.”
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2. Saitoh, S.; Sato, T.; Harada, H.; Matsuda, T. Biotransformation of soy isoflavone-glycosides in laying hens: intestinal absorption and preferential accumulation into egg yolk of equol, a more estrogenic metabolite of daidzein. Biochim. Biophys. Acta 2004, 1674 (2) 122-130.
3. Lin, F.; Wu, J.; Abdelnabi, M.; Ottinger, M.; Giusti M.M. Effects of dose and glycosylation on the transfer of genistein into the eggs of the japanese quail (Coturnix japonica). J. Agric. Food Chem. 2004, 52, 2397-2403.
4. Vargas Galdos, Dante Miguel Marcial. Quantification of Soy Isoflavones in commercial eggs and their transfer from poultry feed into eggs and tissues. Thesis. Ohio State University, Food Science and Technology Graduate Program, 2009; http://etd.ohiolink.edu/send-pdf.cgi/Vargas%20Galdos%20Dante%20Miguel%20Marcial. pdf?osu1236706764.
This article appeared in Wise Traditions in Food, Farming and the Healing Arts, the quarterly magazine of the Weston A. Price Foundation, Fall 2012.