Vegetarian and Vegan Sausages: A Taste Test
We dip our toes into the highly-seasoned world of the meat-free sausage – safe to say, it was a mixed bag...
Sausages; perennial breakfast favourite, go-to source for all your offal needs, and – thanks to their uniform cylindrical shape – annoyingly prone to rolling around in the pan. But head down to the shops in 2019 and you’ll see something else alongside the classic meatbags of previous years (side note: ‘Classic Meatbags’ might work as a band name, if anyone wants it). The veggie sausage has exploded in popularity, like a meat sausage exploding in a microwave, with a huge range of options available. So we got a few pals together on a Sunday afternoon, fired up the hobs, and set to finding out which of the many options are actually worth bothering with.
While there may be dozens of veggie sausages to choose from, in the interests of our bank balance and arterial health we narrowed the competition down to eight. Those eight are split down the middle in the same way we all shop – half are sensible choices based on things we’ve enjoyed in the past, and the other half are leftfield options that seemed kinda weird at the time but were probably worth taking a punt on, or so we thought (we also threw in some Linda McCartneys as the 'control' group, because this is a very real and scientific test).
We have five categories to get through, each scored out of five, so let's get cracking.
Boxing Clever: Assessing the packaging
So, the first category in this sausage evaluation – the packaging. If business types must use their marketing lies to induce us to buy their stuff, we may as well tell them where they’re going wrong. Plus, the packaging is a huge part of the conventional sausage game as most meat sausages are essentially identical – how else will we find out which collection of rusk and pork offcuts best matches our ‘quirky’ personality, if not by a snap judgement about the quality of the fonts on the label?
Most of our subjects scored fairly well on this front: there were early four-out-of-five scores for Tofurky’s Beer Brat bratwurst imitations (£3.65, Real Foods) which feature a moustachioed pint glass for a mascot, and for the perfectly-lovely-if-a-bit-too-nice Cauldron Lincolnshire Sausages (£2.50, various). The long-revered Linda McCartney sausages (£2, various) also grabbed four points for remaining on-brand by avoiding plastic altogether; Heck’s Super Green Saus (£2.50, Sainsburys) got the same score for typography so nice it convinced us to pay good money for a pack of green sausages. The Chorizo Shroomdogs and Cumberland Shroompups (£2.50 & £1.75, Sainsburys) both bagged three points for some strange Dr Seuss-esque font choices, and Aldi’s Masala Roast Cauliflower Sausages (£1.49, Aldi) scored three out of five for a design described variously as “nice in a safe way” and “not unappealing”.
That’s more than can be said for the VegiDeli Lincolnshire Style Sausages (£2.69, Real Foods) which we really need to explore in more detail.
Font that makes this look like pretend food from a child’s playset? Check.
Weird ‘gradient fill’ effect straight from Photoshop? Check.
Gratuitous use of maroon? Check.
And then there’s the central image of two of these sausages dumped on top of a pile of mash and gravy (half-obscured by that maroon gradient), with three chunks of the saddest onion in the world for… garnish? Why is the onion there? And why is it raw? Oh and why is there a piece of asparagus lurking in the background like it’s doing a sick photobomb because apparently it’s 2011? One out of five, and only because we don’t give out zeroes.
Scores so far:
Cauldron, Linda, Tofurkey and Heck - 4
Shroompups and -dogs, Aldi's Garam Masala things - 3
VegiDeli - 1
Bar-be-cute? aka Do They Look Nice?
So that’s the outside dealt with, let’s take a look at the aesthetics of the sausages themselves. What we’re looking for is a good shape, appealing colour, and ideally a nice glisten or shine, as nobody wants a matte sausage (Matte Sausage by the way, also a decent shout for a band name). We’re looking for a sausage that browns nicely in the pan, yet doesn’t burn to a crisp the second you apply the heat.
A task that is apparently beyond these goddamn VegiDeli sausages, which were suspiciously smooth to begin with and then proceeded to get extremely dark extremely quickly; two out of five. The same score goes to Linda M’s efforts, which look a little bit like the meatiest yule log you’ve ever seen, and to the Super Green sausages. The colour is unappealing to start with, but then to see a dark meat-like sear on something the colour of a garden hedge – we can’t go for that, no can do.
The Masala Cauliflower sausage did a decent job in the pan, so gets a three out of five, and the Shroompups, Tofurky sausages and the Chorizo Shroomdogs all did well (in that they ended up all brown and shimmering and almost had us fooled). The winner of this little exercise were the lads from Cauldron which, as one of our tasters exclaimed, “look like real sausages”. And they do – nice brown colour, good shape, and lots of little flecks and speckles throughout. If the goal was to make something that could be flung onto a breakfast plate and pass the eye test before anyone has the chance to start shouting about how they’ve been duped by Big Vegetable, then it’s mission accomplished. Five out of five.
Scores so far:
Cauldron - 9
Tofurkey - 8
Shroompups and -dogs - 7
Heck, Aldi, Linda M - 6
VegiDeli - 3
Munch Time: The texture test
See, much of the sausage game is about trickery, about convincing people that your collection of meat bits and assorted fillers adds up to a delicious tube of protein. So much of that sleight-of-hand comes through texture, so that’s what we’re looking at next. The ideal sausage has a satisfying bite, offers a good amount of resistance and spring, and isn’t entirely uniform throughout; no room for sludgy boys here. In case you need a name for your new band, by the way, Sludgy Boys is still available.
The Tofurky bratwurst have plenty going on. They’re all dense and springy, with a light crack on your first bite. They don’t give up easily, either; to incorrectly paraphrase the lovely shouty punk band IDLES, you bite, and they bite back. Four out of five. Of course, this isn’t a case of more texture necessarily equalling better texture. The Shroompups, for example, are a bit too heavy on the bite, but there are some nice big chunks of mushroom in there which make for an interesting chew. Three out of five. Yet we only give two points to their Chorizo cousin, extremely firm to the touch but suffering from a weird sponginess when you actually come to the chewing. They also don’t taste great, but more on that later.
The VegiDeli feature a texture best described as ‘a bit weird’; extremely oily but weirdly dry at the same time, yet it basically balances out, so three points there. The all-time classics from Linda M also get three out of five – also, why has Linda never, to our knowledge, brought out a square sausage? These things have a great if somewhat bitty texture, and would be ideal lorne fodder not least because they’ve got little going on in terms of a snap. Just putting it out there, but also this is a great idea that must now come to fruition.
But you know what isn’t a great idea? A sausage made of quinoa and spinach. Yes, it’s the Super Green sausage, which is a mushy, clumpy and confusing mouthful. There are whole grains of quinoa floating around the place, and the texture somehow manages to be both gloopy and bitty at the same. It feels a bit like what would happen if you tried to make falafel after having read about the concept once in a heavily-redacted book. Bad, wrong, no, one out of five, boo, hiss.
The Garam Masala sausage also gets just one point, on the grounds that it feels like smashed-up samosa filling stuffed inside a condom. The Cauldron sausages, on the other hand, are pretty damn good. Chunky and faux-gristly with a good bounce – they put up a bit of a fight, but not too much. Four points, and definitely the best of the bunch.
Scores so far:
Cauldron - 13
Tofurkey - 12
Shroompups - 10
Linda M - 9
Chorizo Shroomdogs - 9
Heck, Aldi - 7
VegiDeli - 6
Part 4, aka 'The Taste Test part of the Taste Test'
Having covered the fonts on the packets, the visual splendour of the goods and the level of chewing required to force one of these things down your gullet, it’s probably time to discuss what these actually taste like. Taste is a highly subjective measure, and everyone has their culinary foibles, but when five people all independently make the same horrified noise upon first bite that’s probably not a good sign. The Super Green sausages may be made from real, identifiable ingredients, but that’s about the nicest thing you can say – the flavour is strange and bad, with a weird lingering background flavour and an irritatingly soft heat from the ginger and chilli inside. Oh, and the lovely chunks of quinoa will get stuck in your teeth, so you’ll be tasting these for a while. Bad, bad, not good – one point.
And they’re not alone. The Chorizo Shroomdogs are foul, and manage to taste of both absolutely nothing and all the paprika in the world at the same time. And then there’s the aftertaste, which is really quite bitter and unpleasant. These taste bad, so they get one point. The Shroompups, by contrast, just taste of nothing but without any lingering badness, so bag themselves two points. Good job! The VegiDeli sausages accidentally stumbled on a passing mark here – they basically just taste of wholemeal bread crusts and smashed-up onions, but at least the flavour doesn’t hang around for too long. That’s the standard we’re working to – if it doesn’t leave us lying on the ground praying for this to be over, three points!
Without any #richmedia to point you towards, here's a delightful illustration by Mica Warren from our Food and Drink Survey back in 2015. Look how jolly that sausage is!
The fancy-pants Tofurky sausages talked a big game – they’re flavoured with amber ale, just like real sausages. Unfortunately, the other ingredients don’t bring much to the party so these ended up just tasting like beer with a bit of a savoury twang. The general vibe was these were closer to real sausages than many of the others; it’s just that they're the kind of sausage you impulse buy once, then realise there’s a good reason why you hadn’t tried them before. Three out of five. The Masala sausages also grabbed three points – ignore the disgraceful texture and it’s basically just the inside of a samosa with loads of lovely spices and earthy pulses, and those are delicious.
It turns out Linda McCartney’s many decades in the veggie game have served her well, because her sausages are pretty damn good – nice seasoning, well-balanced flavour, and the kind of savoury smack we’re here for. Four out of five, and they would have been the best were it not for the lads over at Cauldron. Their Cumberland sausages are absolutely delicious – herby, garlicky, salty and extremely moreish. We’d think they were the product of some kind of witchcraft, if it weren’t for the fact that committing witchcraft while calling your company Cauldron sounds a bit too Scooby-Doo for our liking. Anyway, five out of five, we have a winner etc etc.
Scores so far:
Cauldron - 18
Tofurkey - 15
Linda M - 13
Shroompups - 12
Chorizo Shroomdogs - 10
Aldi - 10
VegiDeli - 9
Heck - 8
Believe It or Not: The Believability Test
Except there’s still one category to go, and that’s believability. If there’s any reason for these things to exist at all, they need to convince the buying public that they are, in fact, actual sausages and not just weird coagulated vegetable rods (if you still need a band name, have Vegetable Rods, it’s on the house).
Two of our eight competitors have already shot themselves in the foot here – the Super Greens weren’t fooling anyone, but then a bright green sausage is a pretty brazen bit of provocation that shouldn’t fool anyone. Same deal over in Garam Masala sausage corner, where the question ‘Why is this a thing?’ was asked more than once in increasingly pained tones. One point for each.
Look at all those shades of 'vaguely meaty'. And the 3D effect! Oh my!
We wouldn’t fall for the VegiDeli sausages either, as they looked a little too much like plastic toy food from your childhood kitchen playset, which at least matches the packaging so fair play. Plus, and we can’t stress this enough, they really, really taste like bread – two points there. There were a few bangers that fell into a particular niche we touched on earlier, in that you’d believe that they were sausages, just… not particularly nice ones. Three points each for the Chorizo and those fancy-pants Tofurky sausages, and a fourth point for the Shroompups for being a touch more convincing than the others.
Linda McCartney isn’t fooling anyone, but we do at least believe that her offering is real food you might want to eat, so that’s a three out of five. The Cauldron sausages get full marks – the flavour, texture and look are all perfect – and after topping most of the other categories as well, they are our unequivocal winner. No other vegetarian sausage will do, and the rest of them should get in the bin (except for Linda, who can go back in the freezer). That’s your result; now, we’re off to check just how much salt is ‘too much’ for one afternoon...
The Final Scores
Cauldron Lincolnshire Sausages - 23 (out of 25); these are legitimately delicious. Gold stars all round.
Tofurky Beer Brat - 18; convincing, but not great. Would probably be good on a barbecue, but then it was snowing the night before we wrote this conclusion so that might be a while off.
Linda McCartney - 16; there's a reason these have been around for ages. Super-reliable, reasonably tasty, and they don't try to do too much. Don't run before you can walk, vegetarian sausage-makers of the world!
Cumberland Shroompups - 16; miss out on a place in the top three on the grounds that they don't taste very nice. Still, good packaging and convicing texture, so ideal for vegan sausage rolls etc. Plus, as the only other entrant to convincingly clear the 50% barrier, these are a good marker – venture beneath these guys at your own risk.
Chorizo Shroomdogs - 13; do you really like paprika? If so, get these! If not, maybe just leave 'em and have a salad instead!
VegiDeli Lincolnshire Style Sausages - 11; get past the generally unappealing vibe and you'll find something that's not very nice to eat either!
Masala Roast Cauliflower Sausage - 11; samosa condom.
Heck Super Green Saus - 9; this one's for everyone who ever told a friend or colleague to 'follow their dream' and 'ignore the haters, of course people will want a green sausage that tastes like grit, with the texture of a hedge that's been run through a food processor'. This is now, officially, your problem.