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Foods That Fool Us

Knock, knock; Trick or treat; April Fool!

Most people love to have fun and joke around with friends, and fooling folks is always popular this time of year. Have you ever had someone serve you a meal that “pulled the wool” over your eyes? There is an ever-expanding array of food available designed to replace or imitate many common things we grew up eating. If it has been a long time since you’ve tried any of these products, you might be surprised to find that the flavors and textures have improved greatly, especially with soy-based products. There are many different reasons for choosing an imitator—you might be trying to switch to a plant-based diet for health or environmental reasons; sometimes vegetarian kids (and adults for that matter) want a lunch that looks the same as everyone else’s; or maybe you are a longtime vegetarian craving a burger. Let’s take a look at some popular items you might use to fool your tastebuds or a friend’s.

Meat substitutes

Some of the most common and popular food “foolers” are meat substitutes. These used to be limited mainly to burger patties and crumbles, and provided a vegetarian substitute for ground beef. Now we can buy veggie “bacon,” “chicken,” deli slices, “sausages,” and more. Most of these are soy-based, some are mainly wheat gluten and some are grain- and vegetable-based. If you are not a vegetarian, are any of these better choices than the meats they replace? Most of these products are much lower in fat than meat, but many are high in sodium. Many of them have textures and flavors that are quite authentic—”meaty” enough to make some vegetarians nervous!

Veggie burgers

The top-selling veggie burgers here at the Co-op are made just down the street at Nature’s Bakery. Their newest addition, the Tofu Walnut Burger, is a little too tender for grilling, but a very satisfying burger when baked or pan-fried. It is low in fat and the ingredients are very straightforward, including Wisconsin-made tofu, mushrooms, other vegetables and spices. Gardenburger’s flame-grilled frozen burger is, structurally, a better choice for the backyard grill. The main ingredient is soy protein concentrate, and it also includes wheat gluten, natural flavors, natural grill flavor and several other things. One patty contains 120 calories, 4 grams fat, 300mg sodium, 4 grams dietary fiber and 14 grams of protein. By contrast, a ground beef patty (3 ounces raw weight) with nothing added, has 185 calories and at least 9.8g fat—3.8g or more are saturated fat. This burger packs 21g of protein and only 59mg sodium but has no dietary fiber. If you are looking for loose ground beefless burger for a casserole or taco filling, check out Gimme Lean or Smart Ground in the Dairy aisle.

Hot dogs

Maybe a hot dog on the grill is more your style–Smart Dogs and Tofu Pups are made from soy (the Dogs also contain wheat gluten), natural flavors, oils, salt, paprika and tomato pulp. They are free of MSG and nitrites. Smart Dogs are fat-free; Tofu Pups have 2.5g fat per link. Either variety is higher in protein and lower in sodium than the typical hot dog. You can find these in the Dairy aisle, near the tempeh and tofu. An Oscar Mayer regular wiener contains mechanically-separated turkey, pork and chicken along with water, salt, flavors, preservatives and nitrites. One link has 130 calories, 12g fat (4g saturated fat), 540mg sodium and only 5g of protein.


Speaking of tempeh, one of my favorite foolers is Fakin Bacon, a bacon substitute made from organic tempeh, soy sauce, vinegar, cane juice, spices and natural color. Crisp these strips in a skillet, put them together with some real, ripe, local tomatoes (this August!) and you’ve got a great veggie BLT without the grease! Use these strips anywhere you would use bacon. A serving of Fakin Bacon has 100 calories, 3g fat, 4g fiber, 8g protein and 470mg sodium. A one-ounce serving (1/14 of a package!) of Hormel Black Label bacon has 142 calories, 14g fat (6g saturated), 3g protein, and no fiber or other nutrients.

Brats and meatballs

You can get meatless brats from Tofurky. As with hot dogs and burgers, these will have about half the fat and twice the protein of a traditional pork-based bratwurst, and they grill up nicely if you follow package directions. Maybe you like meatballs in a sandwich or with your pasta? Try Nate’s Meatless meatballs in the frozen aisle. These have been fooling people at my house for a while now—the texture and flavor is eerily authentic.

Sandwich trickery

While we are talking about things that work with bread or buns, another product that will fool you is the Eggless Egg Salad from our own Willy Street Co-op Deli. This stuff is made with the same ingredients your mother used—scallions, red peppers, pickle relish, dill, mustard, turmeric, and vegan “mayonnaise”—but instead of peeling all those hard-boiled eggs, the kitchen staff crumbles tofu to mix with the seasonings. This recipe will spare you all the saturated fat of egg salad while still tasting like childhood comfort food.

Vegan mayonnaise

Spread your sandwich with Vegenaise or Nayonaise to keep the theme going. Both are eggless versions of mayonnaise, based on soy and natural flavors like vinegar, mustard and lemon juice. They are much lower in fat than traditional mayonnaise. Vegenaise is found in the refrigerated case near the tofu. Its flavor and texture are amazingly close to traditional mayonnaise.


What about the bread in your sandwich? Some bakeries are fooling around with the basic wheat and yeast formula. Gluten-free and wheat-free breads are available from several sources including Ener-G, Food for Life and Enjoy Life. These breads typically use rice flour instead of wheat and are often dairy-free as well. They tend to have a denser texture than traditional bread recipes.


Not in the mood for a sandwich?How about pizza? Tofutti’s Pizza Pizzazz is vegan with a soy-based mozzarella cheese. Amy’s Kitchen’s line of frozen pizzas also includes a soy cheese version, but it does contain caseinate, a milkprotein. According to Amy’s website, this pizza is lactose-free. The freezer case is also stocked with a variety of alternative frozen crusts if you are in a mood for homemade pizza—try cornmeal, spelt or rice flour crusts for a change of pace.


Are you craving beef stew, but need to please a vegetarian? Seitan may be just the ingredient you are looking for. Seitan is another name for wheat gluten, and has been a standby in Chinese restaurants for years—have you ever tried Mock Duck? Making seitan is a simple, but time consuming process. Whole wheat flour is combined with water and then kneaded and rinsed until all the starch has washed away, about 20 or 30 minutes. The dough is then simmered in broth for about an hour to flavor it. It is a bit quicker to use a mix, or try commercially prepared seitan available in either the Refrigerated or the Frozen aisle. Whichever type you choose, seitan, browned and braised, will fool most anyone in stew, fajitas, stroganoff or any favorite recipe.


Tofu can also substitute for meat in your recipes. On its own, fresh tofu has a light clean flavor, but when added to a familiar dish it tends to take on those flavors. Bountiful Bean tofu from Simple Soyman in Milwaukee is very fresh tasting and has a nice texture. Many cooks like to drain and press tofu before using it in order to remove excess moisture and firm up the texture. Once this has been done, tofu can be sliced or cubed to any size you like, or crumbled to approximate ground meat. Try cutting drained tofu into cubes and sautéing them in a little oil until golden, pour in a sauce made with two tablespoons tamari, a little toasted sesame oil, and minced garlic and ginger to taste. Toss and cook a few minutes longer until glazed and you will have tofu that is a yummy addition to fried rice or a vegetable stir-fry. If you do this with tofu slices you can create a plate of “steaks” or a delicious sandwich. Check out the recipe page in this issue of the Reader to learn the technique for the delicious Southern Fried Tofu found in the Deli case.

Lactose-free milk

Do you avoid milk because you have a problem with lactose intolerance? Organic Valley offers lactose-free milk in both half gallons and single serving sizes. You can even get it in chocolate! Or try goat’s milk from Sunshine Farms in Portage for a naturally lower-in-lactose product.


Do you need a replacement for butter or shortening? Earth Balance offers several dairy-free spreads and sticks to replace butter on your table and in your cooking. All of their products are made with expeller-pressed, GMO-free oils and are non-hydrogenated. In my experience, using these products for baking things like scones or pie crust, gives good results—flaky pastry with a crispy, but tender, crust.

There are an amazing number of products to substitute for other dairy goods as well. Most of us are familiar with soy or rice milk; they are available in the Dairy aisle or in shelf stable packaging in Aisle 4. You can buy them plain, sweetened, or chocolate flavored or as coffee creamers and even whipped topping in spray cans. Soy milk is available cultured, as dairy-free yogurt and kefir and also masquerades as sour cream and cream cheese.

Soy and rice milk also act as pretenders in chunks of cheese in all your favorite flavors, including Cheddar, feta, mozzarella, Swiss or Monterey Jack. You can slice or shred these as needed; their melting qualities vary, so experiment with a few types. All of these cheese substitutes are very low in fat when compared to dairy cheese, but some do contain milk proteins, so be sure to read the labels if this is important to you.

Dairy-free desserts

Oh, let’s not forget dairy-free desserts—the staff at the Juice Bar will be happy to blend up a rich, vegan malt for you with a base of OatsCreme. Rice Dream, Soy Dream and Soy Delicious all show up as non-dairy versions of ice cream in bars and scoopable cartons. Tofutti Totally Fudge Pops will definitely fool the fudgesicle lover in your house. Got an urge for an ice cream sandwich? Try Tofutti Cuties—they come in a bunch of flavors.


There are a few different kinds of pasta that will stand in for the basics. Whole wheat or spelt pasta will add a subtle, heartier flavor and texture to your favorite recipe. These pastas are higher in fiber and protein than typical semolina pasta. They pair well with sauces that contain beans. Gluten free pasta is an important choice for some people. These are now available in several different formulations including rice, quinoa and corn. There are also traditional Asian noodles to add a new twist to your menu.

Speaking of pasta, if you are craving mac and cheese, but trying to avoid dairy products, there are a couple of speedy solutions for you. Head for the Deli and pick up some Jeff’s Vegan “Cheesy” Bowties (a favorite of many Willy Street Co-op staffers) or grab a box of Road’s End Organics dairy-free “Mac and Chreese” in Aisle 3.


If you need to make a vegetarian version of chicken noodle soup, pick up a carton of Imagine Foods no-chicken broth. Add your favorite veggies, seasonings and pasta, diced tofu or seitan, and you will have a warming soup for a damp, cool night.


Looking for a low fat, crunchy snack? Try tortilla chips from Guiltless Gourmet. These are baked, not fried, but still have a satisfying crunch and corny flavor. Serve them with your favorite salsa to fool your friends.

Maybe a sweet snack is in order-the Bulk aisle is home to carob-coated almonds, peanuts and raisins. Carob trees are large evergreens native to the Mediterranean. The mature pods are ground to form a powder that can be used as a replacement for cocoa. Carob powder is high in calcium and B vitamins and low in fat.

That’s a quick look at just some of the foods that can fool you. As you explore the aisles here at the Co-op you are sure to discover more new foods to help you transition to an eating style that is more plant-centered, or just adopt some new menu options for a fun meal with friends or family.