The future of plant-based bacon

Can plant-based bacon taste like the real thing? Americans love their bacon, and it’s going to take a lot to get them to switch to plant-based versions. Vegan bacon brands have been around for years, and many of them are delicious.  They’re made from a variety of products, such as soy, mushrooms, and wheat-gluten, with flavorings such as soy sauce, rice vinegar, herbs and liquid smoke to give that authentic smoky flavor.  Many brands are readily available in grocery stores, giving us lots of choices, but none taste exactly like animal-based bacon.

A French company, La Vie, seems to have cracked the problem.  French farmers are so worried about La Vie’s plant-based bacon that the French Pork Lobby have accused La Vie of unfair competition.  The Pork Lobby claims that La Vie’s plant-based lardons are so similar to conventional pork alternatives that they must have copied the original flavor.  La Vie is flattered by the comparison and thanked the pork lobby for the “nicest compliment”.  Taking out a full back page advert in Le Parisien, a French daily newspaper, the bacon innovator directly addresses consumers first. “The pork lobby is attacking us because our veggie lardons are indistinguishable from pork lardons.” 

The French government, supporting its animal farmers, has been attempting to regulate the plant-based meat industry by implementing a labelling ban on using terms such as “sausage”, “steak” and “bacon” on packaging for plant-based products. However, last week the French high court paused the ban to assess its legality and proposed timescale, offering companies like La Vie a potential reprieve. Meanwhile, they’re making the most of the controversy to advertise their products.

Some states in the US have also attempted to limit the use of animal-based terminology on the packaging of plant-based products, as the products become more and more similar to the animal-based products they are replicating.  We wrote earlier about how Miyoko’s Creamery was sued by the state of California to stop them using terms such as dairy and butter on their packaging. Fortunately, the US District Court for the Northern District of California have now ruled in favor of Miyoko’s constitutional right to free speech.

MyBacon by MyForest Foods

While La Vie’s bacon is not yet available in the US, we await further bacon products with interest.  Vermont entrepreneur, Eben Bayer, is currently working on a vegan bacon product made from mycelium, the fast-growing root system of mushrooms.  Launched as MyBacon, under the MyForest Foods label, this product is grown into meaty slabs which are brined and sliced just like pork belly. In addition to mycelium, MyBacon is made with beet juice for color, and contains coconut oil to give it the fatty consistency that gives an authentic bacon texture. Bayer chose bacon as his first product in this line, because in taste tests against existing bacon, people loved the new plant-based bacon.

Of course, you can always make your own bacon substitutes, using tempeh (see Cooking with Amanda Lentils and Beans Class 8) or even carrot strips.  They taste delicious, even if they don’t quite taste like their meat counterparts.