Have you ever spent ages in the "Specialty Foods" isle mulling over a package of overpriced meatless protein? Does it really taste like meat? Is it worth shelling out $5 bucks? Will it give me indigestion? These were basically my thoughts as I stood last night in a Huntington Beach Albertsons supermarket.... That is, until I finally decided to kill my curiosity with a massive meatless meat taste test. Read on for all the juicy details.
Smart Deli Bologna Style Veggie Protein Slices - $3.99
Oddly dark in comparison to the bright blushing slices on the front of the box, the only thing bologna-like about these slices of protein is the texture, and even that is on the dry side. The smell is slightly smokey, similar to a Slim Jim and the taste is bland and not very appetizing on its own. This product is only useful as a filler (kind of like cantaloupe in a fruit salad), so don't expect it to add any umph to your sandwich.
Yves Meatless Deli Bologna - $3.49
This product had me in the looks department right up until i tried to pull a slice out of the plastic casing. It tore easier than a wet piece of toilet paper... and tasted just about the same. The smell is more subtle than its Smart Deli counterpart, but equally as perplexing. Ultimately, there's no fooling anyone here. This product looks pretty, but it feels, tastes, and smells like soy.
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A strange grayish color more similar to Vietnamese giò lụa than processed turkey, Smart Deli turkey smells vaguely of poultry origins, but if 90 percent of taste is smell at least we're traveling in the right direction. The texture gets a thumbs up, but the protein slices are dry and once again bland. Drench these babies with some Dijon mustard and you might even be able to fool a meat eater.
Yves Meatless Deli Turkey - $3.49
If I thought there was something off about the color of the Smart Deli turkey, it was only because I hadn't yet seen the ghoulish pallor of the Yves rendition. It smells identical to the Yves bologna and tastes even more like soy. Personally, I would rather slap a raw tofu steak between two pieces of bread because at least that way I wouldn't feel like my sandwich is lying to my face.
The almost chocolaty brown color of the Smart Deli ham makes me marvel at how gullible we can be as consumers. No wonder these things come in completely sealed cardboard boxes! The smell is savory with hints of sweetness that is echoed in the aftertaste of the product. Once again, the product is bland, but at least triggers faint associations with ham which can be amplified with the use of condiments.
Yves Meatless Deli Salami - $3.49
Finally, an Yves product that doesn't leave you with a strange aftertaste and a quizzical expression. Seasoned with onion powder and garlic, this salami is aromatic and subtly spicy. Crushed black pepper leaves a pleasant tickle at the back of your throat and effectively masks the usually heavy soy flavor. Just add salt.
A glimpse of light at the end of a long, dark tunnel, Smart Ground protein crumbles manage to add to, rather than distract from, the flavor of whatever dish you're cooking. I used the original grounds in a tomato based pasta sauce and the result was quite pleasing. After simmering the crumbles for a few minutes minutes, they became tender and absorbed the flavor of the sauce. I also tried the Mexican style crumbles in some veggie tacos. I found the crumbles to be a little dry and bland on their own, but with the help of some extra taco seasoning and a dash hot sauce I couldn't complain. Smart Ground is also more than double the net weight of the deli slices, so you're definitely getting your money's worth in that respect.
In conclusion, Smart Ground beats Yves by a long shot. These two brands are basically your only alternatives for meatless protein at Albertsons, and if you're going to give in to the appeal of once again sinking your teeth into a deli-style sandwich, it is strongly suggested that you cough up the extra 50 cents.