It's tough to find meat-free products that taste like bacon. These plant-based chips may have cracked the code.
Don’t get us wrong—we love bacon. But contrary to popular belief, it may not actually make everything better.
More and more research shows that bacon and other cured meats have serious health downsides. The World Health Organization recently went so far as to classify processed meats like bacon and hot dogs in its Group 1 list of carcinogens—which also contains asbestos and tobacco.
Then there are the pig-waste lagoons that overflowed in North Carolina after Hurricane Florence, causing environmental damage. But you don’t need a hurricane to have waste issues. Citizens in Iowa are suing the state because of runoff from pig farms in local waterways.
It’s time to make bacon better. Luckily, there’s a solution, courtesy of the humble mushroom.
Meet Outstanding Foods’ PigOut Pigless Bacon Chips, a salty-smoky-crunchy marvel of plant-based culinary craftiness. The architect behind these chips is chef Dave Anderson, who helped Beyond Meat launch its meat-free burger patty. Now Anderson had partnered with serial entrepreneur Bill Glaser to bring home the fake bacon with their own line of meat-free products.
Anderson loved working on Beyond Meat's burger, but the project was mostly lab-based scientific work. He missed the simplicity of working with whole foods, the way he used to coax meat-like flavors from mushrooms at his restaurant, Madeleine Bistro, in Los Angeles. “Our goal is that we want to use more whole-ingredient stuff and not be so heavily reliant on the science,” he says.
For PigOut’s first product, Anderson kept things simple. The main ingredient in the bacon chips is king oyster mushrooms. “I came to mushrooms because there’s a lot of umami and meaty texture and flavor going on,” he says. Plus, mushrooms are full of health benefits, adds cofounder Glaser, who points to studies showing a range of reasons to eat more fungi: possibly slowing cognitive decline, acting like a statin and reducing blood cholesterol, and maybe even boosting the immune system.
To make the bacon chips, Anderson deep-fries paper-thin mushroom slices in sunflower and safflower oil. The resulting texture is shockingly bacon-like. It crumbles in your mouth like the tastiest of crispy meat candy. And while nothing will ever taste exactly like the real thing, these are a damn good substitute. Heavy on the smoke, with plenty of salt and just a hint of sweetness, they’re so addicting that you may find yourself powering through a bag in one sitting.
As I munched my way through my own bag, letting the deep-fried deliciousness be my muse as I worked on a particularly loathsome assignment, the thing I kept coming back to is how perfect these chips—which are the size and shape of a potato chip—would be in the backcountry. I have often packed in cooked bacon as a way to level up my dehydrated entrées, but even cooked bacon has food-safety concerns. After a day or two in a pack, it starts to feel like you’re playing GI-tract roulette. These chips, however, weigh almost nothing and are still safe to eat on the last day of your trip. They’d be a massive flavor hit to mac and cheese, mashed potatoes, or even savory morning oatmeal. Even better, you’re getting a serving of mushrooms, and most of us need to eat more vegetables on the trail.
Are they a health food? Maybe not. Like any good chip, these are carrier vessels for salt and, you know, they’re fried. But they’re certainly healthier than real bacon and a better choice for the planet. And they’re good enough that I keep finding myself daydreaming about the company’s next offering, coming this fall: plant-based pork rinds.
You can find the bacon chips in major upscale grocery chains. They’re $5 per bag and available in four flavors—original, Kansas city BBQ, chipotle, and cheddar. Right now, Wegmans has them nationwide and Whole Foods has them regionally in the snack-food aisles, an intentional location for Outstanding Foods. (Find chips near you using this map.) The founders didn’t want their first offerings to be marooned next to the tofu and textured vegetable protein patties in the vegan corner of the store. “We wanted to go where people shop,” Glaser says, adding that by “people,” he means everyone, not just vegans. The company’s packaging and marketing is gloriously free of plant-based evangelizing, which sometimes makes products feel more like an obligation than a joy. “We didn’t want people to have to change their habits to enjoy it, and we’re not even telling you to not eat bacon,” Glaser says.