WAITROSE SMOKY STREAKY SLICES – IT’S HAPPENING. VEGAN SUPERMARKET BACON’S ACTUALLY HAPPENING

waitrose smoky streaky vegan bacon
Hi, Pathetically

In the old days (read late last year), Upton’s Naturals Bacon was all we had. Quorn bacon, of course, still includes milk and egg – and it’s basically liquid mould. Then, steadily, I started stumbling across vegan supermarket gold like Sgaia’s Vegan Meats and all-star high roller THIS Isn’t Bacon. Now, supermarkets like Waitrose are doing it themselves. And they’re doing it damn well.

Until recently – other than the Full Nelson’s crispy in-house tofu bacon – THIS Isn’t Bacon was my favourite meat-free alternative. But I think Waitrose has just edged it. Because everything about their own-brand “smoky streaky slices” is perfect. The taste. The texture. The smell. Even the thickness is on point.

Waitrose’s streaky slices, you see, are thinner than THIS Isn’t Bacon. So they’re more bacon-like and easier to crisp up. In fact, the texture’s the perfect middle ground between thinner, more cardboard-like Upton’s Naturals Bacon slices and thicker, more salmon-like THIS Isn’t Bacon rashers. They’re juicy, but they ain’t chunky. They’re also wheat and pea-protein based, and soy free.

The smoky flavour’s exactly what you’re looking for as well – thanks to maple syrup and smoked paprika. And when you cook them up the kitchen smells like a late, hungover Sunday morning. So far, this is the best, most legit, vegan supermarket bacon alternative I’ve had. And you know what, maybe the future’s looking good for pigs after all.

THIS ISN’T BACON – BUT IT SURE TASTES (AND SMELLS) LIKE IT

vegan bacon on toast this isn't bacon
Hi, Pathetically

Since it launched, THIS’ range of plant-based chicken and bacon alternatives has wormed its way on to fast food menus across the U.K. From hot new recruit Chick ‘n’ Sours to Patty & Bun and Chilango. The times they are a-changed. And the best part is you can buy THIS Isn’t Bacon (and THIS Isn’t Chicken) and cook it at home.

These days new vegan options hit shelves faster than Lewis Hamilton. It wasn’t that long ago when THIS’ plant-based rashers first launched in Holland & Barrett stores countrywide, becoming the proverbial plant-based white whale. White kale? Now they’re everywhere.

Unlike other vegan bacon I’ve tried, there’s more to THIS Isn’t Bacon. It’s thicker. Juicier. More substantial. More “meat” like. In fact, in its raw state, it looks more like chunks of smoked salmon than bacon. But as soon as it hits the pan the nose remembers.

As always, I cook my plant-based meat a bit longer than the recommended dosage – in this case, three minutes. Seriously? What can you do in three minutes? I’m a crispy bacon, well-done kind of guy. And cooked properly, it tastes great. On pancakes. On toast. On its own. I’ve even gone all out and made my own THIS Isn’t Bacon Beyond Meat cheeseburgers.

Just like actual bacon, however, THIS Isn’t Bacon is not health food – unless you’re a pig. In fact, it’s 24% soy protein, 8% soy protein isolate and described as “ridiculously high in protein.” You know how crazy people go for protein…

Just like actual bacon, however, THIS Isn’t Bacon does possess magical hangover-curing powers. And nobody dies. So maybe this is bacon. How it’s supposed to be.

THE BEYOND MEAT BEYOND BURGER – BEYOND FAST FOOD. BEYOND TAKEAWAY. IN YOUR KITCHEN

Hi, Pathetically

I remember when Beyond Meat first launched the Beyond Burger in the U.K. Before mega-chains like Honest Burgers, Byron and BrewDog were serving them on tap the patties were meant to be available at Tesco stores across London. I looked for them. A lot. Months apart. At several jumbo stores. But I never found any*.

So Beyond Burgers became a novelty. A mysterious treat I enjoyed at dreamy joints like Halo Burger, Vurger and Co., and most recently, Neat Burger. Until I found a pack of two in Whole Foods, Piccadilly Circus’ frozen vegetarian section and kicked down that vegan fourth wall, with added Follow Your Heart Pepper Jack cheese slices and SGAIA’S Streaky Mheat Rashers. Burger night would never be the same again.

I couldn’t believe it. In my own kitchen. The packaging looked so unassuming. Like I’d bought any old Vivera, Linda McCartney, supermarket brand “soy protein” burgers. Not Beyond Burgers. Not the real, “bleeding-vegan” deal.

“Made from plants. Soy free. Gluten free.” So what is it? Pea protein, expeller-pressed canola oil and refined coconut oil. Mostly. Plus “two percent” or less experimental vegan science like bamboo cellulose, vegetable glycerine and methylcellulose (and a bunch of extracts, acids and other things you’d probably rather not know too much about).

Still, in moderation, Beyond Burgers are meant to be healthier than processed beef. And of course, ethically and environmentally there’s no comparison. If meat is murder (and it is), Beyond Meat is a life saver. Interestingly, although they’re processed, some nutritionists don’t even classify the patties as junk food. Either way, one thing I’ve never had is the vegan meat sweats.

Just like any regular beef burger, you have to know what you’re doing when it comes to cooking Beyond Burgers. You can’t just throw them on the pan, poke them around a bit and hope for the best. Just ask Honest Burgers. There’s an art to a good Beyond Burger.

Hi, Pathetically

As someone who liked his burgers medium to well-done, I like to cook my vegan burgers more or less the same. And even then, there’s an art. Between overcooking and drying it out and cooking it just right, so it’s not bloody but it’s still juicy and full of flavour. And let me tell you, I nailed it.

Just before serving I fried up my vegan rashers, laid my cheese slices on my patties under the grill and dressed my bun with lettuce, vegan mayo, sriracha mayo, ketchup, mustard and pickles. Then I popped the melted cheese-topped patties on the lettuce side of the buns, crossed two bacon strips over them and neatly positioned the sauce side of the bun on top. I was in vegan burger heaven. Not quite Halo Burger good. But way better than Honest Burgers. So a winning start, really…

* looks like the burgers are available from Tesco online. But who buys groceries online, right?

SGAIA’S STREAKY MHEAT RASHERS – ALL OF THE SIZZLE. NONE OF THE GRISTLE.

Hi, Pathetically

I used to think it was weird that vegans and vegetarians were so into “fake” meat. Now I get it. It’s how we were raised. It’s comforting. It’s convenient. The unshakeable evolution of the human fast food diet. And besides, nobody gives up bacon because they don’t like the taste. We do it because it’s cruel, it’s unhealthy and it’s killing the planet.

I have tried a few meat, dairy and egg-free bacon alternatives since I went vegan. And unsurprisingly, some of them taste like dry, “hickory flavoured” cardboard. But there is hope for plant-based foodies craving that perfect, juicy, smokey bacon taste on burgers, pancakes and scrambled tofu.

Of course, The Full Nelson’s homemade crispy tofu bacon is a vegan junk food dream. But so far, my favourite DIY supermarket option is This Isn’t Bacon. Followed by Upton’s Naturals, which is thinner and drier than I’d like and does need seasoning.

Then I stumbled across a bag of SGAIA’s Vegan Meats Streaky Mheat Rashers in Whole Foods, Piccadilly Circus. And straight away, I was intrigued.

They really do look the part. The uncooked rashers are “juicier” and more bacon-like than Upton’s, and even This Isn’t Bacon. And when you pop them in a hot pan with a splash of oil, the sizzles, crackles and smells are perfect. Close enough to trigger the feels, yet different enough to not smell like actual dead flesh cooking – which now grosses me out, a lot.

I tried the rashers in toasted cheese and bacon sandwiches and on burgers, and I’m definitely hooked. They’re crispy, chewy and bacon-thick. The taste’s fantastic as well. Salty. Smokey. With a hint of sweet maple – thanks to the combination of beech wood liquid smoke, molasses and maple syrup. Next time I think I’ll cook up a vegan carbonara. Mmm…

PULLED OUMPH! & OUMPH! KEBAB SPICED – DELICIOUS SOYA “MEAT” CHUNKS STRAIGHT OUT OF THE KEBAB SHOP

Hi, Pathetically

No one I ask has ever heard of Oumph! It’s like some kind of hush-hush full-time vegan secret that just seemed to appear one day. First there was BBQ Pulled Oumph! Then came Oumph! Kebab Spiced. And now there’s a new Oumph! Burger, which I haven’t tried yet. So people are obviously buying the stuff.

The “meat” itself is pretty damn convincing – especially for frozen, pulled supermarket soya pieces. The taste and texture reminds me of What the Pitta’s amazing vegan kebab “meat.” Or at least a frozen, DIY version. But still… believe me, that’s high praise indeed.

I’ve tried both versions of the Swedish company’s pulled soya meat. In wraps with homemade hummus. On loaded rosemary fries with Garlic Aioli Vegenaise and sriracha. With roast potatoes. Rice. And roasted vegetables. And Oumph! never disappoints. It’s simple. It’s delicious. And it’s easy to dress up and enjoy.

SQUEAKY BEAN’S NUT-FREE SATAY KIEV – QUICK AND EASY, TASTY (VEGAN) NIGHTS IN

squeaky bean vegan satay kiev
Hi, Pathetically

If you’re in the mood for something quick and easy, and don’t mind soya, wheat and scary sounding additives like maltodextrin, Squeaky Bean Veg’s nut-free vegan satay kievs are a tasty – and very convincing – chicken alternative.

The texture’s perfect. Just like the schnitzels I remember growing up. Especially if you cook them a bit longer than recommended, hit grill towards the end and crisp them up in a splash of olive oil – or melt a cheeky slice of Violife cheddar on top. And when you hit the middle it’s like a savoury, vegan-chicken doughnut, filled with sweet, nut-free satay sauce.

squeaky bean vegan satay kiev
Hi, Pathetically

I’ve eaten them on pasta. With vegan mac ‘n cheese. In burgers, with cheese and other fancy toppings. With bubble and squeak and a side of “meaty” Marmite gravy… Their role in lunch or dinner’s totally up to you. But one thing they consistently don’t do, is disappoint.