Gary Steel finds himself perpetually disappointed at vegan product options
AS A TRANSITIONAL vegan, I find myself in something of a dilemma.
You see, I adore creamy things. All those years as an ovo-lacto vegetarian, I was addicted to whipped cream. I never liked the taste of cow milk, but cream, especially the ultra-creamy whipped variety, has a charm that I won’t even start waxing eloquent about.
Of course, that charm fades somewhat when you start to think about the reality of where it comes from, and how it got to the consumer, and what it all really means. So, this isn’t a yearning ode to cow cream, but a yearning cry to producers of vegan products: where’s that one non-animal product that will fully encompass the pleasure of whipped cream?
The same applies to yoghurt. It was yoghurt that I found the hardest to give up the first time I dabbled with veganism in 1999. My stomach just didn’t feel right; it was as if my digestive system had been set to “dry”. That would have been the probiotics, I guess, and now there are loads of mostly fermented non-animal products that do that job perfectly well, so I haven’t got an excuse.
And yes, I hear you, there is a vegan “yoghurt” made out of coconut cream, COYO, and it’s bloody delicious, but it costs a fortune for a pottle that would last about a day in my house, so no, we can’t do that, not as an every day thing. [It’s a great pity though. Why the heck can’t a relatively cheap product like coconut milk be turned into yoghurt minus its prohibitive retail price? Do health and wellness magazines ever ask these questions?]
COYO, while it’s expensive, is at least a treat worth salivating over. The same can’t be said for some vegan products on the local market that utterly lack the “wow” factor.
I have recently auditioned two products that I want to specifically draw your attention to. One goes by the name Coco Quench Coconut Milk, from Australian company Pure Harvest. It’s an organic product, which actually only contains 20 percent coconut milk, along with organic brown rice, organic sunflower oil, sea salt and organic guar gum. Not perfect, but not bad, ingredients-wise.
The problem is that it tastes like… nothing in particular. I mean, there’s a vaguely coconut-like taste to this $7 concoction, but its flavour is just so unenticing to the taste buds that, having tried it, I can confirm that it won’t be splashing its bubbling brooks of white goodness over my organic muesli again any time soon.
I tried a similar product when I was in LA last October, and it was equally unimpressive, so I guess Australians and Kiwis aren’t the only countries to come up with some average-to-pointless vegan products.
The same applies to local (Auckland) organic soy yoghurt, TONZU, which advertises itself as ‘plain unsweetened’ with an impressive ingredients list: just filtered water, organic soybeans and cultures. The problem here is that it tastes just like tofu, and even has the consistency of tofu. It’s in a plastic drink-like bottle, and the instructions are to SHAKE WELL BEFORE USE, but I found that the tofu… sorry, yoghurt, was too stiff to give in to my rapid shaking.
Now, I applaud TONZU for sticking to their organic principles and being vegan to boot, but quite what the point of this product is remains a mystery to me. If its best application were as a bulk add to smoothies, why wouldn’t I just throw a block of organic tofu into the mixer?
I think that it’s time for Pure Harvest and TONZU to go back to the drawing board and come up with a better solution. There’s a massive, and exciting amount of research and development in plant-eating cuisine and associated products, and it’s not enough to be healthy: taste and texture matters too!
Perhaps what’s happening is that in NZ, where so many vegans are creating so much of their food at home, and in many cases straight from garden to plate, with perhaps some fermentation in between, that there’s not the perceived audience of rabid consumers for healthy, delicious non-animal products off the shelf that there clearly is in populous Western nations.
But I think there is, because veganism isn’t just a passing trend, it’s growing all the time, and there will always be those who don’t have time to make their own sauerkraut. Or coconut milk. Or tofu yoghurt. It’s time for manufacturers to get creative, and it is happening, but not fast enough. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be so damn hard to find something appropriate to splash on my muesli. GARY STEEL