Meatless jerky is coming along, but there is still no substitute for flesh.

Jul 14, 2010 (Updated Jul 14, 2010)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Sates the appetite rather well.  No more processed than name-brand beef jerky.

Cons:Sticky outside, sweet flavor, eaten and digested much more quickly than jerky, "non-GMO" hoke.

The Bottom Line: A sticky sauce with a sickly "food science" flavor make Primal Strips, including the misleadingly named "Hickory Smoked" variety, a disappointment.

Few foods sate the appetite as well as does beef jerky.  When traditionally prepared, the often tough, leather-like, thinly-sliced pieces of meat can take minutes to chew and swallow and keep the digestion occupied for hours.  Over 90% lean--mostly consisting of protein--eating beef jerky doesn't produce a sugar rush nor the ensuing crash.  Lightweight, devoid of "empty" calories, dry, and not readily perishable, it's a near-ideal food for a long hike or drive.

However, modern science has found many reasons to limit red meat intake.  Furthermore, many people are vegetarian for reasons of religion or personal tastes.  For us non-vegetarians there are jerkies made of turkey, pork, or even tuna, ostrich and alligator, but all are expensive and all but turkey jerky are difficult to find.  Although meat substitutes are centuries old, a vegetarian substitute for jerky has yet to be produced.  Cheese is the closest--not that cheese is merely a "substitute" for anything--but it doesn't travel nearly as well.

Primal Spirit Foods, makers of the Primal Strips line of vegan jerky substitutes, deserves at least some credit for trying.  Their seitan (wheat protein), soy, and mushroom-based products, seasoned in a manner somewhat similar to meat jerkies, are very filling for a vegetarian food and sate hunger for quite a long time.  They're not even in the same league as jerky or cheese in this regard--taking my own experience as representative, they ward off hunger for about a third as long--but are considerably more filling than the same sized portion of much less portable beans or lentils.

Not being a "food scientist" I can't say whether or not a vegetarian product could be made more filling than Primal Strips, but it doesn't take any specialized knowledge to know that considerable improvement could be made in texture and flavor.  None of the varieties in the product line--neither the soy, nor wheat, nor mushroom jerkies--need to be chewed very much.  They're only slightly more fibrous than the "vegetarian chicken" served in Chinese restaurants and can be swallowed in one bite.  All of them are sticky, must be carried in their plastic wrappers, and make the hands slightly sticky when eaten.

The "Hickory Smoked" variety reviewed here is sold in a sweet barbecue sauce made primarily of soy sauce and evaporated cane juice.  The soy protein bar (made "meatier" tasting by inclusion of nutritional yeast) isn't smoked at all.  That would probably result in a much better product.  Instead, a bit of "natural smoke flavoring" is added to the sauce.  In addition to being inconveniently sticky, the sauce is sweet and sickly-tasting.  It's what I'd imagine the dressing would be for Red Cooked Chicken McNuggets:  soy sauce and licorice, with the smoke too "artificial" tasting and a bit of black pepper relegated far to the background.  With only minor variation, the other varieties' sauces are similar: sweet, sticky, and lent "umami" character by abuse of soy sauce.

"Hickory Smoked" Primal Strips and most other varieties are available for $1.30 at the time of writing at Sunflower Market, a Southwestern U.S. grocery chain somewhat similar to Whole Foods but less pretentious and with lower prices.  I've seen them for similar prices at other "natural" or "alternative" food stores, and the 24-pack listed here on Epinions is currently selling for only a bit more.  Per serving, Primal Strips thus cost about one and a half times beef jerky.  The price could probably made lower, on par with beef jerky, were Primal Spirit Foods to abandon the hokey "Non-GMO" stance and just buy commodity wheat and soybeans.

Perhaps the introduction of transgenic crops to the food supply is problematic, but for every one person avoiding transgenic foodstuffs who can articulate a respectable case for doing so--e.g. someone opposed to seed companies' use of patent lawsuits to abuse farmers downwind of transgenic plants' pollen--there are a handful of knuckle-draggers who talk of "franken-foods" and think entirely identical biomolecules can be safe or unsafe based on their origin.  Primal Spirit Foods plays up "non-GMO" in its ingredients list and again in a bullet-point list of the product's virtues, probably encouraging the myth that transgenic crops are unsafe and almost certainly raising their product's price.  Legitimate reasons aside, a company packaging its food in single-serving plastic wrappers that will never break down and are not even labeled for recycling is in no position to be so fussy.

But that's a minor quibble.  Primal Strips are sweet, sticky, and taste too much like a product of food science.  Getting rid of the sauce and either incorporating the seasoning in the "meat" or dry-rubbing it on the outside would probably be an improvement.  Until competitors' products become more widely available--Vegan Dream's ingredients list has me guessing that it's superior--vegetarians have no other choice.  As for me, I'll stick with beef, or turkey when it's on sale.

"Hickory Smoked" Primal Strips Ingredients (verbatim):  Non-GMO isolated high fiber soy protein, water, naturally brewed (gluten free) soy sauce (water, non-GMO soybeans, wheat, sea salt), expeller pressed canola oil, licorice root, unrefined evaporated cane juice, yeast, sea salt, natural smoke flavoring, natural vegetarian spice, no MSG added.

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