The Imitation Game: a guide to vegan and vegetarian alternatives
A guide to meat and dairy alternatives
In today’s world of environmental concern and ethical consumerism, many people are starting to think twice about the impact of the meat and dairy products they buy. Whether you’re committing to veganism or just cutting down, at some point you are guaranteed to miss meat and dairy, and turn to plant-based imitations of your favourite products. Now, more than ever, supermarket shelves are stocked with these alternatives; brands like Quorn, Alpro, and Tofoo are bringing out new and innovative products all the time. The task of meat and dairy imitation is not an easy one, and we all know these products can be hit or miss. This list provides a quick guide to a few of the vegan and vegetarian alternatives I have tried, rated out of ten for your convenience!
Quorn Chicken Nuggets
Tesco Price: £2.20
Starting this list off strong with a veggie classic! I have yet to meet a vegetarian who is not partial to a Quorn chicken nugget. Find them on the menu at all good Wetherspoon establishments or in the frozen food aisle at Tesco, they are reliably delicious and surprisingly versatile. I am not ashamed to admit that I had Quorn chicken nuggets for my Christmas dinner last year, alongside more traditional trimmings.
I could not have been happier. But the downfall of Quorn nuggets, and the reason I have deducted half a point from their score, is that they are not vegan: like most Quorn products, they contain egg. Quorn have recently been expanding their vegan range, using potato protein as an egg substitute – here’s hoping that one day our vegan brothers and sisters will be able to enjoy this delicacy with us.
Violife ‘just like’ cream cheese
Tesco price: £2.50
As I reached for this vegan cream cheese alternative in Tesco last term, I knew I was taking a risk. Vegan cheese is famously difficult to perfect, and few can claim to have enjoyed it. In fact, I may have only ever had one good experience with the stuff, and it was at a vegan restaurant in New York when I was 17. I’m not sure what convinced me that I could recreate this experience in the dairy alternatives’ aisle of the Magdalen Street Tesco, but I willingly surrendered my £2.50 for the chance to sample Violife’s vegan soft cheese. It is only right that I warn the Oxford Student readership against making a similar error. Despite what the reassuring branding suggests, Violife’s product is not ‘just like’ cream cheese. It is not like cream cheese at all.
As soon as you open Violife soft cheese you are aware that something is wrong. The eerily bright white colour which stares up at you from beneath the tinfoil is less than promising. The culprit behind this colour is coconut oil, the chosen dairy replacement. It turns out, not altogether surprisingly, that the sweetness of coconut goes very badly with the strong salty yeastiness of the ‘cheese’ flavouring. In the immortal words of Tyra Banks, “it is so bad, I want to give you a zero”, but, just for effort and the admirable vegan cause I give Violife ‘just like’ cream cheese a 1/10.
The task of meat and dairy imitation is not an easy one, and we all know these products can be hit or miss.
Tesco price: £1 – £2
This is perhaps the most controversial rating of this list. Many will be surprised to see oat milk treated so harshly after the cultural buzz it has received over the last two years. Oat milk was the ‘it’ girl of 2020, suddenly surging in popularity to become the UK’s favourite plant-based milk by September of 2021. You could not walk into a coffee shop last summer without hearing requests for oat milk iced lattes and oat cappuccinos, oat was omnipresent. The nation has sustained this oat obsession into 2022, but I say the madness stops here. It’s not awful but it’s gloopy, and that’s my final word.
Tesco price: £1 – £1.80
There was a time not too long ago when ‘non-dairy milk’ was synonymous with the soya bean. The humble soy led the long and arduous uphill struggle for the milk alternative, only to be cast aside for the glamourous almond or the trendy oat. Having freed myself from the oat milk cult, I have returned to this old favourite as my go-to milk. I prefer the thinner consistency and it doesn’t separate in the carton like oat milk tends to. The high protein content of soy milk is also reassuring for those concerned that a vegan or vegetarian diet will leave them wanting.
Tesco price: £1 – £2
I am pleased to end this list on a high note, and you can’t get much higher in my esteem than Alpro yoghurt alternatives. My flatmate and I discovered this gem in the middle of a long and difficult Hilary term and instantly fell in love. Before long our fridge was seldom seen without multiple pots of Alpro yoghurt. I ate them for breakfast, as a mid-morning snack and as an after-dinner treat. I ate peach Alpro yoghurt, strawberry and banana Alpro yoghurt, raspberry and cranberry Alpro yoghurt. Whatever the flavour or the occasion, it hits the spot.
I am a great believer that vegan and vegetarian alternatives should be judged by how enjoyable they are to eat as stand-alone products, irrespective of how they compare to the meat or dairy option they are imitating. However, I was truly amazed by the convincing creaminess of the Alpro yoghurt alternatives – the harshest critic would struggle to distinguish them from a yoghurt made with cow’s milk. You cannot fault it. Alpro yoghurt is the perfect 10.
Image description: A bowl of tofu with a glass of soy milk and scattered soy beans