Monday, June 05, 2017

Lightlife Meatless Foods

Lightlife is a plant based meatless (vegetarian and vegan) food producer.  They have been in business since 1979, long before meatless eating was such a big thing.

Lightlife has a large product line at this point, with frozen foods, refrigerated items, and shelf stable meatless jerky.  The frozen food line is fairly new, and includes pastas (stuffed raviolis), bowls (so trendy, of course they include quinoa, kale, tempeh, and more), and veggie fritter snacks, none of which I have tried.  The majority of the products are refrigerated meat alternatives: tempeh (meh, I never like tempeh so I didn't try this), hot dogs, sausages, burgers (not available near me), veggie ground beef, chicken (er, chick'n), breakfast items, and deli meats.

I tried all that I could find, and, was honestly surprised by some of them.  I'm not a vegetarian, but I have no problem replacing some of my meat choices with their offerings.

Breakfast

"Start your day off with a heaping helping of vegetables – in the form of our bacon and sausage – and feel good for the rest of the day."

The breakfast lineup includes bacon, sausage patties, and ground sausage for slicing or crumbling as you please.  I was able to find these items at most locations carrying Lightlife products.

Smart Bacon

"Whether served up with scrambled eggs or topping off a burger, Smart Bacon® brings that hearty bacon taste to your meal. But unlike traditional bacon, Smart Bacon® is vegan and free of saturated fat and cholesterol."

Nutrition wise, the bacon sounded pretty good; each slice is only 20 calories, with 2 grams of protein and only 1 gram of fat.  No cholesterol.

The ingredients aren't particularly wholesome though, made from soy protein, isolate, vital wheat gluten, soybean oil, soy protein concentrate, textured wheat gluten, fermented rice flour, autolyzed yeast extract, carrageenan, potassium chloride, and then the only non-scary ingredients: salt, sugar, natural flavor, natural smoke flavor, spices, and paprika.
Packaging.
The bacon comes vacuum sealed in plastic, about 14 slices to a package, sold in the refrigerated section.  It had a reasonable shelf life, with an (unopened) expiration of almost 3 months after I purchased.  Once opened, you need to cook or freeze within 3 days.

It was a bit annoying to separate the slices though, they kinda stuck together, and I needed to use a knife to slide between them, else they broke apart.

The packaging provides several cooking methods, and I tried them all, plus, uh, my own.
Batch #1: Into the skillet!
The recommended cooking instructions are in a skillet over medium heat with oil.

So, I went with their recommendation.  I can't say it looked particular appealing in its raw form.
Batch #1: 2 Minutes In!
After about 2 minutes of cooking though, things were looking better.  The total cook time is supposed to be about 3.5 minutes, flipped once, so I flipped them at this point.

They were starting to kinda look like bacon, and, did actually sorta smell like bacon too.
Batch #1: 2 More Minutes!
After another 2 minutes, it really did look like bacon!

I like my regular bacon crispy, so, I went a little longer than recommended, since I thought I'd want this crispy too.
Batch #1: Overcooked.
But ... I definitely over cooked it.

It was hard as a rock, and not that enjoyable.  My bad.
Batch #2: 1 Minute In.
The next batch, I flipped right at the 1 minute mark.
Batch #2: 3.5 Minutes.
And I cooked it only the recommended 3.5 minutes.

This came out much better, but, it was still very crispy.  Like I said, I like crispy bacon, but, it just had no flexibility to it.  Ojan however liked it this way.

The consistency was also obviously not bacon-y, as it just snapped in pieces, rather than having a chew to it.

It did have a decent smoky flavor, and, I'll be honest, the taste wasn't bad, it certainly didn't taste like random soy compounds.
Batch #3: Waffling!
The next batch, I went against all instructions.  You know how obsessed I am with waffling everything, so, I couldn't resist waffling the bacon.

I put it in at 450 degrees, as that was the temperature Lightlife recommended for oven cooking.

It took longer in the waffle iron, and, since it was so thin, it didn't have a whole lot of contact with the grills on top, so it didn't get much of a signature waffle look.

Still, this was a very easy way to cook it.
Batch #3: Waffled Bacon!
This batch was clearly the winner for me, in an interesting way.  Because all of the surface wasn't in contact with the waffle iron plates, it stayed a bit flabby where it didn't touch.  And ... that just gave it a lot more texture, making it a bit chewy, a bit more like real bacon.

I'd certainly make it like this in the future.  Ojan however liked this the least and asked specifically to have it crispier next time.
Batch #4: Baking Tray.
The final cooking method listed on the packaging is to bake it in an oven or toaster oven, coated with oil, on a tray.
Batch #4: Baking.
As with the skillet preparation, you need to flip the bacon as it cooks.  Total recommended cook time is 5 minutes, but, Ojan wanted crispier bacon, so I let it go a bit longer.

The result was fairly similar to the skillet preparation, just a tiny bit flabbier, a tiny bit chewier.  My second favorite cooking method.
BLT'ed.
After sampling each variety on its own, I made it into a BLT, with some delicious perfectly ripe in-season heirloom tomatoes, lettuce, and of course, plenty of mayo, on homemade bread.

The result?  Really quite delicious.  I'm not sure I'd want to eat the bacon just on its own for breakfast with some eggs, but, put into a BLT it totally worked, and delivered everything I wanted.  I think it would likely work great in a breakfast bacon, egg, and cheese sandwich too.

So, overall, success, and, I'd actually do this again.

Gimme Lean Sausage

Breakfast sausage is available in pre-formed patties, or in a tube.  I opted for the tube, since I wasn't quite sure what I was going to do with it when I bought it (crumble it in something? Make patties?)
Gimme Lean Ground Sausage.
"Whether sliced into patties or added to omelets and casseroles, Gimme Lean® Sausage makes it easy to enjoy traditional sausage flavors in your meatless meal. But this cholesterol-free meat alternative is a heart-healthy swap, making it a delicious win-win."

I forgot to take a photo of the ground sausage in its packaging, but it was a tube of ground meatless sausage, ready to be manipulated as you please.  They also sell formed sausage patties.

I simply sliced it into disks and mushed it down into patties a bit.  My tube yielded 9 fairly thick patties, you certainly could have made more.  It was easy to work with, very pliable.

The instructions were to pan fry for a few minutes on each side in oil, which is what I did.  They browned up really nicely.
Sausage Patties!
I served the sausage patties at Christmas brunch, without telling anyone that they were veggie sausage.  I brushed it off as my sister saw me preparing it and said something about having raw meat on the cutting board.

And then I asked what everyone thought of the sausage.

"Its fine," said my sister.  "Tastes like sausage," said my mom.  Everyone just acted like it was normal sausage, no mentions of it being a strange flavor, texture, etc.  When I told them it was veggie sausage, they were all very surprised, and said they really had no idea.

I agreed, and actually quite liked it.  The sausage did get a great crust on the outside, and was well seasoned inside.  The texture was sorta mushy and like bits and pieces, but, well, that is what sausage is.  I didn't taste anything particularly strange.  I particularly liked it with maple syrup on top, as I usually do with breakfast sausage.

Overall, a hit, and I'd get it again.

Smart Deli

"What’s your favorite sandwich? A wrap, a club, a hoagie? Or perhaps a turkey melt, a pepperoni panini or a croque-monsieur? Whether you keep it simple or kick it up a notch, our Smart Deli® vegan deli meats perk up the packed lunch or picnic with plant powered nutrition."

The Smart Deli line is the one I was most excited to try, but, sadly, is not carried anywhere in San Francisco.  The sliced deli meats lineup has versions of ham, turkey,  "bologna", and pepperoni.

I was sad not to get to try these items, but then I found them in my parent's hometown, where even the basic grocery stores seem to carry a slew of Lightlife products (and very few alternative brands), unlike the Bay Area, where each grocery store only carried a few Lightlife products, but at least 5 other meat alternative brands.  Clearly, the Bay Area is more opinionated, and consumers don't stick with one brand for all, they want the best brand per product?

Anyway, I was delighted to find the deli products, and I really was curious about the bologna, but that was the one item I couldn't find.  So I went with my second choice ... pepperoni!

Smart Pepperoni

"Pepperoni is a perennial favorite on pizzas, in calzones or as a snack. But you don’t have to harm a pig to get the bold flavor in your meals. Skip the saturated fat and cholesterol with our vegan pepperoni, and sneak a delicious snack while you make an easy Italian feast tonight."
Veggie Pepperoni Slices.
The pepperoni comes in a bag much like other packaged sliced meat-based pepperoni.  At first glance, it really didn't look much different from the "real" thing.
Raw Pepperoni.
Once you looked closer, it didn't look quite the same as regular pepperoni though.

I tried a slice right out of the bag.  It kinda tasted like pepperoni, but the texture was very off.  The spicing was right, but I also tasted just a bit too much soy protein isolate or vital wheat gluten perhaps.  A little too fake, in its raw form.

But really, what do you do with pepperoni?  You put it on pizza.  I read some online reviews and found many recommendations to put it under the cheese, as it gets dried out on top as it doesn't have the oils of regular pepperoni.

My mom made a pizza with regular pepperoni on one half and we snuck the veggie pepperoni on the other.  We didn't tell anyone about the two pepperonis, but served everyone a slice of each.  All 5 people who consumed the pizza didn't notice.  After dinner, I asked if anyone noticed anything different about the pepperoni.  No one did.  When we told them half of it was veggie pepperoni, they were surprised.  Clearly, this one is an easy one to slip in unnoticed (if you want to do that for some reason).

Chick'n

"Cutlets, wings, tenders and strips – however you like your chicken, we have a tasty veggie alternative for you."

The Chick'n line is not sold in the Bay Area either, where Quorn chicken products dominate.  Lightlife makes cutlets, tenders, and buffalo wings, only three items, compared to the Quorn empire.  And although I don't like chicken, and I don't really like "fake meat", I have to admit, I used to seriously love the Quorn gruyere chicken cutlets.  But Quorn products are all soy-free and made from mycoprotein, whereas Lightlife products are made from soy protein, so I knew they'd be nothing alike.  Still, I couldn't resist trying.
Smart Wings Buffalo.
"Perfect for snacking during the big game or for a fun take on a dinner entree, these veggie buffalo wings will spice up any plate. The saucy flavor always satisfies."

I went for the buffalo "wings".  The wings came packaged in a vacuumed sealed bag with the sauce already mixed in.
Cooking the wings ...
Cooking instructions were provided, and the recommended preparation is to skillet fry for a few minutes on each side.  I dumped the package into a skillet.
Slight Browning.
The wings did brown up slightly on each side after a few minutes.  The sauce smelt great as they cooked, but, I scraped out every little bit of sauce, and this is all there was.  More sauce on the side, or I guess in the bag, would really have helped.
Plated Up!
I plated up my wings with ranch dipping sauce (we had no blue cheese), and served them to my mom, Ojan, and myself of course, as an appetizer.

The buffalo sauce was actually pretty good.  Not super spicy, but flavorful, and I really wished more was included.

The wings ... were interesting.  The inside was very mushy.  Unlike the pepperoni, I didn't think they looked or tasted like real chicken at all.  But, the flavor of the sauce was great and the product wasn't bad overall.

My mom was more enthusiastic, "I still don't get how they get that chicken texture!", she said, clearly thinking they had nailed the whole chicken thing.  "They aren't bad", she said.  "They are okay", was Ojan's evaluation.

So, overall, a success, although I wouldn't personally get them again.

Burgers N' Dogs

"Red, White, and Green. A healthy twist on all American favorites.  Grab the ketchup and mustard—It's time for a BBQ you can feel good about with our plant-based burgers and hot dogs."

Lightlife makes 3 types of burgers (tempeh, black bean, and quinoa), and 3 types of hotdogs (tofu pups, "smart dogs", and jumbo smart dogs).  I opted to try the Smart Dogs because I really like regular hot dogs (yup, my secret gross thing I love!).
Jumbo Smart Dogs.
"This slightly larger hot dog is full of traditional hot dog flavor for the larger appetite. Try one Chicago style – topped with yellow mustard, fresh onions and tomato, sweet pickle relish, pickled sport peppers, a dill pickle spear and a dash of celery salt on a poppy seed bun – and treat your taste buds to something spectacular."

I picked the Jumbo dogs over the regular dogs for no reason other than ... why not?  Jumbo dogs are double the size of the regular dogs.

The Smart Dogs come packaged in the same way as traditional hotdogs, 5 to a pack, refrigerated.  I always found regular hotdog packages annoying to open, and these were no different.
Grilling Smart Dogs.
The hot dogs looked considerably more rubbery than traditional hot dogs.

The package gave instructions on to cook on the stove top in boiling water (again, just like normal hot dogs), or on a grill (again, just like normal hot dogs), or in a microwave (in a dish covered with water ... which is never how I made regular hot dogs in the microwave).

I was planning to try several methods so I could best evaluate, but, laziness got the better of me, and I decided to just grill them all on my trusty George Foreman Grill (dug out from the depths of my kitchen cabinets).  You can bet I was tempted to waffle them.

The instructions told me to coat the grill with oil, and I'm glad I did, as they got very easily stuck, even on the nonstick surface.  I rotated them several times throughout the cooking time, and each time, they were a bit stuck.  They did get decent grill marks, resulting in something that did sorta look like a hot dog.  They even looked juicy and plump.
Smart Dog: Inside.
I had hope for these, given my love of actual hot dogs and the looks.  The texture was pretty similar to a regular hot dog, although it had no casing, and thus no snap to it.  Overall, the mouth feel wasn't bad.

The flavor though wasn't great.  It tasted like ... soy.  We all took one bite and said, "yup, that's a veggie dog".  No matter how many fun toppings I put on, there was certainly no way to hide the strange flavor.  Soy protein isolate, pea protein isolate, tapioca starch, xanthan gum, rice flour, guar gum, etc, etc just aren't very tasty.

I would not get these again, but my vegetarian guest thought they were pretty normal.
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