When I interviewed vegetarian (and veg-curious) teenagers for The Smart Girl’s Guide to Going Vegetarian, I found that many of them had a Most Missed Food (let’s call it the MMF)—the one meat-based food they regularly craved. While those foods included things like chicken fingers and hamburgers, there’s one MMF that came up more often in conversation than any other: Bacon. My guess as to why: While you can pretty easily get a meaty veggie burger or an oh-so-dippable tofu nugget, it’s not as easy to mimic the smoky, savory flavor of bacon.
Luckily, bacon-flavor is hot these days (stick with me—I said bacon flavor, not necessarily bacon itself!). And loads of companies and creative chefs have taken on the challenge of recreating the flavor of bacon without the, well, bacon. Here are a few different approaches.
Lightlife Smoky Tempeh Strips: This organic bacon stand-in is made with tempeh, a fermented soy product (which means it has healthy, good-for-your-belly bacteria in it, and makes it easier to digest). It’s also a good source of that nutrient everyone worries vegetarians don’t get enough of, even though they usually do, protein (Eat it. It'll make your nervous adults happy.).
Betty Crocker Bac~Os: These have been around long before vegan products hit the mainstream. They’re made with soy flour, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, salt, sugar, some added flavor and coloring. In other words, they don’t really add much in the way of nutrition. But, they may help you scratch that bacon itch.
MorningStar Farms Veggie Bacon Strips: The selling point of this fake-on is that it crisps up when cooked, similar to the real deal. It is made with a long list of not-found-in-any-kitchen ingredients, including soy protein isolate and textured soy protein concentrate— two highly processed ingredients that many experts advise against eating too much of.
Lightlife Smart Bacon: This one’s texture is a bit bacon-y, and crisps if you cook it well. It also contains processed soy ingredients, though its ingredient list is much shorter and simpler than the MorningStar one.
DIY (do-it-yourself) it:
Coconut bacon: I first discovered this last summer when I visited Café Gratitude in Los Angeles. Turns out, coconut bacon is a thing (and I’ve been living under a rock)! I haven’t tried making my own yet, but when I do I will try this recipe from The Simple Veganista.
Smoked paprika: Also called pimenton, this spice is my favorite secret ingredient. Add it to soups, beans, marinades and more for a rich, deep, barbecue-y flavor. It used to be harder to find, but now even mainstream brands like McCormick make it.
Tempeh bacon: Sure, you can buy it. But why not make your own? I love this recipe from Vegetarian Times. FLT (Fake-on, lettuce, and tomato), anyone?!
What’s your favorite way to fake bacon?