By Alicia Hückmann, intern visiting from Germany
As vegan foods become more popular around the world, these foods are increasingly being exported and imported to different countries. Are there different tastes internationally? What does a German think of an American product now available in her country, such as Tofurky? Of course, remember that tastes everywhere, even in the same family, differ dramatically.
I tasted the following products:
– peppered deli slices
– bologna deli slices
– pepperoni deli slices
The reason why I am only going to review cold cuts is because they are the only meat alternatives I consume on a regular basis. While I certainly tasted enough brands and flavors to do a knowledgeable review on Tofurky’s deli slices, I lack experience with other types of products.
Tofu- and soy-based products are among the best when it comes to vegan cold cuts in my opinion. Thus it didn’t come as a surprise that I enjoyed Tofurky’s deli slices as much as I did. I have to admit, however, that they didn’t beat my personal favorite, the plant-oil based cold cuts by Gut Wudelstein. Even though I really like Tofurky’s use and balance of spices, they don’t always neutralize the slices’ natural tofu flavor (especially in mild flavors like bologna). The spicy slices (peppered and pepperoni) are definitely among my all time top 5 vegan cold cuts, though. Not only taste-wise but also because they are a great source for protein and iron among others. Furthermore, they seem much healthier than the aforementioned cold cuts that mostly consist of fat and oil.
While other cold cuts are usually dried out after three days and make pretty good crackers after seven, this was not the case for Tofurky’s deli slices. Although it takes me about a week to finish one package, they remain moist and soft until the very last day – only the edges harden a little after a while. At first I thought this was only due to the fact that they come in a block of slices and are therefore less likely to transpire but changed my mind when I witnessed how two leftover slices (bologna style) still tasted relatively fresh after laying in the fridge for another three days.
As I am generally a big fan of Tofurky’s deli slices, all suggestions I have to say are really minor issues and wouldn’t actually prevent me from buying the products. One of them is the texture which could be a little more tender in my opinion. For me, the perfect cold cuts are the ones that you can bite through easily (the pepperoni come very close). I often eat a little while working on my computer or reading, so having a snack that doesn’t make make my fingers greasy and that doesn’t need to be held in two hands is very convenient. When putting a deli slice on a slice of bread, however, I always have to hold on to it with both hands in order not to pull it off with my teeth.
While I appreciate the fact that Tofurky uses less plastic than many other brands for their cold cuts, I sometimes get a little frustrated due to the way they are sealed. Opening the package can be a bit of a struggle because there is only little space between the tightly sealed bits of the package and the block of slices. This makes it literally impossible to tear it open and also very difficult to cut it open using a knife or even a pair of scissors (which will most likely come into contact with the cold cuts). Once it is open, I have to take out the whole block in order to grab a slice, which I wouldn’t mind if putting it back were less of a challenge due to the aforementioned space issue. Furthermore, the package cannot be resealed which means that the products’ smell will spread inside the fridge unless it is put into a second or different plastic bag (not exactly an environmentally friendly solution).
German taste buds and meat alternatives
General information and recent developments:
The perfect meat alternatives for Germans
A survey conducted by the German Vegetarian Union (Vebu) in 2012 reported that only 15% of all respondents think that meat alternatives should look like meat. 70% on the other hand prefer meat alternatives that have a different name than the products they imitate or are inspired by and another 70% don’t care if meat substitutes taste like meat at all. On the other hand, many consumers seem to attach great importance to organic labeling. 44% think that all meat substitutes should be organic, 26% at least partly agree to this statement, and only 22% attach little to no importance to organic labeling. In general, the majority of all people interviewed was very satisfied with the average quality, taste, texture, and variety of products available on the food market.
Tofu and Soy products
Tofu and Tempeh are the most popular bases for meat alternatives. In the aforementioned survey, these soy products make up about 35% of the average respondent’s consumption. I have the impression, however, that some German vegans, vegetarians, and other consumers are cutting down on soy products at the moment. The reason for this are studies suggesting that consuming “too much” soy can lead to a higher risk of hormone-related types of cancer due to the amount of phytoestrogens it contains. And even though many don’t know what “too much” means, they are still inspired by the headlines to cut down on soy or give it up altogether. As I already suffer from hypothyroidism and have relatives who were diagnosed with breast cancer, I was tempted to do the very same until I did a little more research on the many benefits of soy as well as the exact meaning of “too much.” In order to demystify soy and fully restore its good reputation, more companies need to highlight and advertise its advantages (great source for protein and iron, environmental friendly, etc.).
For more info, see http://www.vrg.org/journal/vj2003issue3/2003_issue3_hotline.php
Major brands might be unhealthy
Another headline that is likely to cause changes on the market for meat alternatives relates to the most recent reviews by Stiftung Warentest (a German consumer organization). Out of 20 products that were tested, 6 contained too high amounts of pollutants – e.g. 400 mg mineral oil/“mosh” per kg in Rügenwalder Mühle Schnitzel. This is one of the highest concentrations of mosh in food products that has ever been measured by the institute. Other products that have been reported to contain mosh are meat alternatives by Alnatura, Netto, Alberts, Viana, and Taifun (20-60 mg each), all of which are commercially successful brands carried by many major supermarket chains. Some supermarkets drew consequences shortly after the test results were published, like the chain REWE, which is going to remove the product “Naturgut Bio-Veggie-Schnitzel” from its shelves. All companies accused of pollution tried to explain the findings by suggesting that white mineral oils (which are almost identical to mosh but considered to be harmless) are to blame. Rügenwalder Mühle announced that they would stop putting them into their products nevertheless.
Mosh is a problematic (accidental) ingredient that affects the food market as a whole. It often finds its way into products if harvested crops come in contact with lubricating oil or if products are transported or packaged in recycled carton boxes. According to foodwatch, rice, noodles, and cereals are among the most polluted products (31 out of 42 tested products contained this type of mineral oil).
Stiftung Warentest did not only criticize the products’ pollution with mosh but also their composition. Only 2 out of 20 products were described as well-balanced in regard to their nutrients. Some products, on the other hand, contained more fat than the recommended amount for a main course (100g sausages by Meica) or 2/3 of the daily recommended sodium intake (100g burgers by Berief). Both of the aforementioned products did also fairly bad concerning environmental friendliness. Other brands have been revealed to use soy from areas that contribute to deforestation or partially genetically modified soy. Only two companies reported that they exclusively use soy grown within the EU.
Stiftung Warentest focused on the category of vegetarian meat alternatives in this particular study. In previous studies, they analyzed the quality of other products including meat. In one of these studies (mincemeat testing in 2015), the conductors found out that every second sample contained E.coli bacteria and antibiotic-resistant germs. One product contained salmonella.
It is also important to bear in mind that Stiftung Warentest only reviews a very small part of the overall market. They focus on products that are sold in or even produced by discounters as well as very popular brands. The majority of these brands are not vegetarian/vegan-only labels but in fact owned by meat producers (like Ruegenwalder Muehle – one of Germany’s major poultry producers). Several of my favorite foods from vegetarian companies were not reviewed.
The contents of this posting, website, and our other publications, including Vegetarian Journal, are not intended to provide personal medical advice. Medical advice should be obtained from a qualified health professional. We often depend on product and ingredient information from company statements. It is impossible to be 100% sure about a statement, info can change, people have different views, and mistakes can be made. Please use your best judgment about whether a product is suitable for you. To be sure, do further research or confirmation on your own.