What's the best vegetarian turkey? (Hint: It's not Tofurky.)

What's the best vegetarian turkey? (Hint: It's not Tofurky.)

What's the best vegetarian turkey? (Hint: It's not Tofurky.)

How to be the best consumer you can be.
Nov. 25 2008 4:19 PM

Mmm … Turk'y

The search for a palatable vegetarian bird.

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Quorn Turk'y Roast

Quorn Turk'y Roast, $6.99

Uncooked, the Turk'y Roast looks like raw dough. Cooked, it resembles spam—a beige, tubular monstrosity. Determined to judge the Turk'y Roast not by the color of its skin but by the content of its character, I cut myself a slice. To my pleasant surprise, I didn't gag. The meat-eaters, for the most part, also overcame their initial prejudice. All but one conceded that, just like real turkey, the mycoprotein (read: fungus) roast was springy and pleasant to chew. Unfortunately, it was a bit too much like real turkey: It was dry and rather bland. Of all the fakes, the Turk'y Roast best captured the experience of biting into a bird prepared by a less-than-expert chef. It deserves high marks for mimicry but falls short in overall taste.  

Appearance: 1
Meatiness: 9
Overall Taste: 6
Total: 16

Tofurky Roast

Tofurky Roast, $15.69

What Kleenex is to tissues, Tofurky is to faux turkey. It's also the most aspirational brand. Quorn offers an unadorned loaf, Celebration Roast comes with stuffing, but Turtle Island Foods, maker of Tofurky, is big on trimmings. There's Tofurky Wild Rice Stuffing, Tofurky Giblet and Mushroom Gravy, even Tofurky Jurky Wishstix (imitation wish bones), all of which you can purchase together in a maroon box labeled "Vegetarian Feast." The company also provides customers with a promotional postcard depicting a happy interspecies family (that is, humans and turkeys), digging into a Tofurky Roast.

Tofurky gets full credit for appearance. Like the Celebration Roast, it closely resembles a small ham. In the oven it develops a brown sheen and the "meat" takes on a turkey-ish golden-brown tone. The wild rice stuffing looked not only edible but appealing.

At a school with moderate grade inflation, the Tofurky would earn a B for taste. While the stuffing was genuinely good, the "meat" (wheat gluten and tofu) was a little rubbery and had a disconcerting Asian tang—no doubt a result of the recommended basting concoction: soy sauce and olive oil. The meat-eaters and I agreed, however, that it was perfectly palatable and might even work well in a sandwich the next day.

Appearance: 5
Meatiness: 7
Overall Taste: 7
Total: 19

Garden Protein Stuffed Veggie Turkey Roast

Gardein Stuffed Veggie Turkey Roast, $7.99 per pound

Perhaps it's unfair to compare Gardein's roast with the products above, because I found it in the hot foods section at Whole Foods, meaning I didn't have to prepare it myself. Whether the Whole Foods chefs or the culinary artists at Gardein deserve credit for the final product, I can't say, but the Veggie Turkey Roast was certainly the best fake of the batch.

Shaped like a Twinkie, with a crispy bread-crumb coating, Gardein's imitation bird doesn't resemble a roast, but it won't elicit any boos around the dinner table, either. And the "meat" itself (soy, wheat, peas, beets, and carrots) really does have the color and texture of a turkey. After my first bite, I felt a little anxious—I wondered briefly whether I'd mistakenly bought real turkey and glanced at my taste partner to see whether she, too, had a "Wait a minute" look on her face. She didn't. While she conceded that the Veggie Turkey Roast had a meaty quality, she argued that it wasn't, in fact, as convincing as Quorn's Turk'y Roast.

In evaluating the un-beast's taste, however, we had no disagreement. The Celebration Roast, Turk'y Roast, and Tofurky were all quite dry, but the Veggie Turkey Roast could almost pass for succulent. It wasn't too rubbery or too porous, too salty or too bland. If, come Thanksgiving, you place a Gardein roast next to the turkey, you may not win any converts, but you won't be tempted to defect.

Appearance: 4
Meatiness: 8
Overall Taste: 10
Total: 22

Juliet Lapidos is a staff editor at the New York Times.