Could the vegan bubble be about to burst? In early 2020, the number of Britons adopting plant-based diets reached an all-time high.
According to a nationwide survey of British shoppers, half regularly sought out meat-free dinners – many hoping it would help them live longer, healthier lives.
But this has dropped by a tenth since the pandemic struck, according to a study published last month by market research firm Mintel.
Despite the downturn in demand for meatless meals, this Valentine’s Day, all the leading supermarkets have unveiled selections of plant-based versions of classics.
There’s juicy fake ‘steaks’, oozy ‘cheese’ bites made from coconut oil, and even dairy-free caramel cheesecakes. The idea, no doubt, is that they’re indulgent – yet healthy. But are they really?
We road-tested the high street’s most tempting Valentine’s Day vegan treats, to find out.
Sainsbury’s Plant Pioneers Vegan ‘Steak’, £3
The bulk of these thick, oval patties is mushroom and onions, with protein powder and rice flour added for bulk
- Cals: 171
- Fat: 5.8g
- Sat fat: 2.3g
- Sugar: 2g
- Fibre: 4.9g
- Protein: 13.9g
- Salt: 1.1g
WHAT’S IN IT
The bulk of these thick, oval patties is mushroom and onions, with protein powder and rice flour added for bulk. Coconut milk and oil are the binding ingredients, and beetroot extract provides the red, meat-like colour. Vitamin B12 and iron – essential for healthy blood vessels and found mainly in meat products – is added, too.
These have roughly the same number of calories as you’d find in a similar-size steak with a tenth of the saturated fat.
There’s disappointingly little muscle-boosting protein (four times less than a sirloin). However, there’s a whole baked potato’s worth of fibre here, thanks to the rice flour, which is slow to move down the digestive tract, keeping you full for longer.
An added bonus: one patty provides the daily recommended amount of Vitamin B12 needed for energy and provides almost half your daily iron – both nutrients that those on meat-free diets often lack. Overall, fairly nutritious, and probably quite good for you (as long as your other half didn’t instantly file for divorce for serving a meat-free steak).
The gristly texture isn’t too far off a cheap kebab. Salt is the most powerful flavour, which is surprising given the large quantity of mushrooms. Would probably taste OK if you were hung over.
Marks & Spencer’s Creamy No Beef & Peppercorn Pie, £8
This puff-pastry pie is filled with chunks of fake ‘beef’ – made from protein extracted from pea and wheat, thickeners, sweeteners and flavourings
- Cals: 515
- Fat: 24.7g
- Sat fat: 9g
- Sugar: 6.5g
- Fibre: 1.9g
- Protein: 13.5g
- Salt: 2g
WHAT’S IN IT
This puff-pastry pie is filled with chunks of fake ‘beef’ – made from protein extracted from pea and wheat, thickeners, sweeteners and flavourings. The sauce is made with mushroom stock and the pastry uses sunflower oil and oat milk for fat, instead of dairy.
There are three different types of sweeteners in this – or two chocolate-chip cookies’ worth of teeth-rotting added sugars. Meanwhile, Sainsbury’s regular steak and ale pie contains barely a pinch.
In terms of calories and fat, it’s about the same as the meaty version, but with 30 per cent less protein than the NHS recommends we have at every meal. You’ll probably feel hungry before long.
While the chunks of ‘meat’ were relatively tasteless, when coupled with the flavoursome sauce and crumbly, rich pastry, it could pass for the beef original.
One keen meat-eater enjoyed it so much that he polished it all off.
Marks & Spencer’s Plant Kitchen Churros, £4
Soya milk, flour, oil, sugar and thickeners are combined to make a batter, which is then shaped into a love heart, fried and dusted in cinnamon sugar
- Cals: 319
- Fat: 19.6g
- Sat fat: 6.4g
- Sugar: 13.6g
- Fibre: 1.9g
- Protein: 3.3g
- Salt: 0.48g
WHAT’S IN IT
A vegan spin on the sweet Mexican treat. Soya milk, flour, oil, sugar and thickeners are combined to make a batter, which is then shaped into a love heart, fried and dusted in cinnamon sugar.
Comes complete with a pot of chocolate sauce – made with coconut cream.
The problem with plant-based fat substitutes, such as coconut cream and plant oil, is that they’re fattier than cream and butter. One churro has nearly twice the fat of a Krispy Kreme doughnut, and 50 per cent more calories.
It will also take up a third of your daily intake of free sugars – the type the NHS recommends you limit to six teaspoons.
Avoiding the chocolate sauce will save roughly a quarter of the calories, fat and sugar – but what’s Valentine’s Day without chocolate?
Slightly chewier than traditional churros, and crispier on the outside. All you can really taste is cinnamon sugar. The chocolate sauce is a must – without it, it’s a dry pudding.
Waitrose Breaded Baking Vegan Melts with Relish, £4
A vegan take on breaded camembert: the ‘cheese’ is created with plant oils, starch, flavourings, thickeners and raising agents, which is then coated in breadcrumbs
- Cals: 294
- Fat: 18.2g
- Sat fat: 11.6g
- Sugar: 2.6g
- Fibre: 1g
- Protein: 1.9g
- Salt: 1.5g
WHAT’S IN IT
A vegan take on breaded camembert: the ‘cheese’ is created with plant oils, starch, flavourings, thickeners and raising agents, which is then coated in breadcrumbs. Comes with a sweet made from redcurrants, sugar and fruit juice.
Quite a hefty calorie and fat count – roughly the same as an all-butter croissant. Most shocking is the total lack of anything nutritious here, given there’s almost zero fibre and protein. In comparison, while calorific, a non-vegan version boasts two eggs’ worth of muscle-boosting protein, as well as calcium.
A gelatinous concoction. As soon as you bite into it, the breadcrumbs fall off, revealing a jelly-like, yellow filling. Tastes like salty, cheesy goo. Not pleasant at all.
Morrisons’ Vegan ‘Chorizo’ Palmier, £3
Mushrooms, pea protein, spices, salt, artificial sweeteners and food colouring form heart-shaped ‘sausages’in pastry made with oil
- Cals: 336
- Fat: 16.7g
- Sat fat: 8.4g
- Sugar: 2.1g
- Fibre: 5.9g
- Protein: 1.3g
- Salt: 0.9g
WHAT’S IN IT
Mushrooms, pea protein, spices, salt, artificial sweeteners and food colouring form heart-shaped ‘sausages’in pastry made with oil.
There’s nearly twice as much protein here as in a pork sausage roll. This, along with nearly a fifth of the NHS-recommended daily intake of fibre, won’t leave you hungry. But there’s nearly twice the salt of a sausage roll, and twice as much fat. A saving grace is the fibre content – five times the amount in a normal sausage roll.
Nothing like chorizo – just bland and rubbery. The pastry was, at least, delicious. As one taster said: ‘You can definitely tell it’s vegan.’