Innovation dominates communication, transportation, and now…tacos. Some heavy hitters of the tech world—Biz Stone (of Twitter) and Bill Gates (of, well, you know)—have invested in Beyond Meat, a startup that wants to revolutionize meat…or meat-like substances.
I sit down at a picnic table surrounded by food trucks to try a taco made with what I would call fake chicken; PR people call it synthetic meat, but Beyond Meat’s founder and CEO Ethan Brown actually calls his product meat—albeit meat constructed in a factory from vegetable “inputs.”
“It’s meat made out of plants,” Brown says. “We have taken the constituent parts of meat proteins and sourced them from the plant kingdom—proteins, water, lipids, trace minerals, carbohydrates—and recreated animal meat.”
Health and environmental benefits
Beyond Meat’s products are all zero saturated fat, zero trans fat, and zero cholesterol. And let’s not forget how much cows contribute to climate change (the methane cows emit is an even more potent greenhouse gas than the CO₂ your car puts out). Brown says, “If you change the three to four ounces of protein you put on your plate at dinner, you can make more of a difference than buying a new Prius or upgrading the heating system in your home. It’s actually one of the most important things you can do to address climate change.”
Yeah, that’s all well and good, but how does it taste?
Taste test #1: “Chicken-Free Strips”
The plant-based chicken substitute is mixed into an onion, pepper, and chili base that I spoon into my crunchy taco shell. Add guac, beans, and salsa, and the taste test commences.
As with all food experiences, appearance and texture matter almost as much as flavor, and Beyond Meat is clearly not your mom’s tofurkey. Instead of the homogeneous, blocky meat substitutes of the past, Beyond Meat’s Chicken-Free Strips have the same sinewy appearance of the real thing. My taco looks like a chicken taco.
First bite: Everything tastes right. Even more importantly, everything feels right, too. In these first few bites, I realize the texture of Beyond Meat chicken is, well, just like chicken. And maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised; 15 years of research has gone into perfecting the process, taking the same “inputs” that meat has—proteins, lipids, water—and running them through a process of heating, cooling, and pressure that realigns and interlinks the proteins so they resemble muscle, or meat.
The taste is good, too. In my well-flavored taco, I get none of the weird plastic taste you sometimes get when you get a big chunk of tofu in a mixed dish. That said, when I try Beyond Meat chicken alone, it tastes pretty good, but not as good as real chicken. On the other hand, how often do you eat chicken with absolutely no other flavoring? Bottom line: I wouldn’t eat it plain, but it’s great mixed in with other flavors and textures. And when I admit this to Brown, he totally gets it: “This is Beyond Meat 2.0. We can’t wait to bring 3.0 and 4.0 to market, and that’s what we’re aiming for—indistinguishable chicken taste.”
Taste test #2: “Beef-Free Crumble”
I taste the beef crumbles in a bowl of chili, and they are even better. The taste is excellent, and the texture is really incredible. It feels and chews just like ground beef or turkey.
Humans have evolved eating meat, and so we naturally associate that texture—along with the flavor—with the sustenance we need. Beyond Meat passes the test in ways that other meat substitutes I’ve tried just can’t match.
Beyond Meat is available in Whole Foods, Sprouts, and Publix stores—and will be coming to some big chains like Safeway in May and Target in September.
Special thanks to Ms P’s Electric Cock for location and food prep assistance.