Stocking up for a weekend barbecue? You may notice something a bit different in the supermarket aisles this summer. Forget filling your trolley with pork sausages and chicken thighs, how about mushroom burgers and cauliflower wings instead?
As growing numbers of shoppers cut back on red meat, retailers are packing their shelves with meat-free options. Tesco has even added the ‘superfood’ beetroot burgers to its range.
And the policy seems to be working, with research by Waitrose finding that 80 per cent of shoppers who buy vegetarian dishes don’t class themselves as such, and one in four people are cutting down on meat. But can these new creations pass muster with a family of devoted meat-eaters?
Alice Smellie, 44, convinces husband Justin, 49, and their children — Archie, 12, Oscar, 11, and Lara, eight — to test some of these new offerings …
The picture on the packet depicts sizzling burgers, sprinkled with creamy crumbled cheese and pomegranate seeds — fancy. The reality is two pinky-grey frozen discs.
The red onion relish and cheddar cheese are mixed in with the soya that gives this a meaty texture. It can be cooked straight from the freezer — though as it grills, it becomes flaccid and difficult to flip.
It’s so meat-like that I check the box to make sure it is vegetarian. The texture of the soya is slightly gristly, but the melted cheese is delicious. We agree that it’s edible, although not incredible. 6/10
Six green and yellow tubes (I hesitate to say sausages) consisting of 14 per cent peas, 14 per cent spinach and 14 per cent cheese, as well as leek, cauliflower, green bean and bulgur wheat. These look nice as they brown, but my son Oscar laughs when I offer him one, and then pretends to die from horror.
My husband Justin refuses to try one on ‘ethical grounds’. Funny. Daughter Lara, who is by far the bravest, is a fan and Archie grudgingly says that they’re OK. I love them — the cheese is creamy and salty. 8/10
Why have a buffalo-style chicken wing when you can have a bit of, erm, buffalo-style cauliflower? I’m not sure I’m going to get these spicy vegetable pieces with a paprika dressing past the children. The chunks are large enough to char on the barbecue without plummeting through the grill, however, and the bright sauce makes this an attractive side dish.
Once cooked, they taste like, well, cauliflower. The sauce is piquant and Justin thinks it works, but I find it too sweet. The children eat the cauliflower, but make pretend sick noises at the sauce. 6/10
These pale orange sausages are made with butternut squash, green lentils, brown rice and cheese. They hold their own beautifully on the barbecue and look delicious.
Justin argues that the outer casing tastes like sticky tape, but I think they are delicious and filling. The sweetness of the squash is perfectly offset by a delicate, smoky aftertaste. The children are enthusiastic. 8/10
Made from soya and wheat protein, these thick discs resemble pork in both look and texture, and have the sweet scent of pulled pork. They sit firmly on the barbecue and are easy to turn over.
These go down a storm with my children. They look just like meat and taste extraordinarily like pulled pork. Justin also likes them — in buns with a bit of salad. 9/10
These dark purple patties appear slightly marbled — although not terribly meat-like (pictured). They’re inexpensive and contain red quinoa, red rice, miso paste, cumin and coriander for flavour.
These aren’t pretending to be meat; instead there’s a strong flavour of beetroot, which mixes well with the miso paste. The kids aren’t impressed by the red theme, but I find these acceptable. 7/10
These red cubes of spicy ‘chorizo’ are made from soya, but smell exactly like the real thing. The ‘prawns’ are crescents of vegetable protein coated in a crispy batter. I thread both on to skewers with pepper and tomato. The fake chorizo is better for being a bit charred.
The children eat the faux prawns cheerfully. They are surprised that the chorizo isn’t real meat and scoff the lot. But when I tell Justin what the battered things are, he flinches. ‘Why do people do this?’ he asks in disgust. ‘Why can’t you just eat prawns?’ 7/10
These mouthwatering mushrooms are stuffed with goats’ cheese and seeds, with a sachet of onion marmalade to go on top. Each one is only 130 calories compared with about 300 for a burger in a bun. Placed on the barbecue, the mushrooms heat up and the cheese melts to perfection.
Lara, Justin and I are impressed. ‘These are excellent,’ Justin proclaims. Archie has always claimed to be ‘allergic’ to mushrooms, so refuses to try them, and Oscar suddenly remembers that he has some ‘urgent’ homework. 8/10
These four long, thick chunks of halloumi cheese come marinated in a red chilli sauce and threaded on to skewers. When we lay them on the barbecue, the cheese sinks down towards the hot coals. They need to be placed on foil.
Despite drippy problems, the result is amazing — perfectly savoury rich cheese with the sweet and spicy sauce. This is a winner. 10/10
I refuse to serve my children real hotdogs — those seasoned German sausages made from beef and pork — because I’m never sure what animal parts are included. And just like the real thing, they feel like rubber. Still, they hold firm on the barbecue.
I sandwich them in rolls, squirt on ketchup, and don’t tell the children that they’re vegetarian. ‘I thought you didn’t like us eating frankfurters,’ says Oscar, puzzled. I consider confessing and then decide to stay quiet, as they are all asking for more. Brilliant. 8/10