I think there’s a point in every vegetarian’s life when they’re confronted with a phony meat that just seems…scary. I hope that most people reading have moved past that phase with tofu, but I do remember clearly when even that gelatinous brick made me shudder. But you move on from this phase. You think “hey, I just need to keep an open mind. Cook this thing properly. Keep my expectations reasonable.” For years you’re doing fine. Until that moment, when that nostalgic phony baloney fear comes roaring back.
Vegan seafood is still somewhat uncharted territory. It was only recently that I was dumbfounded when I tried the messiah of phony fish, Gardein™ Fishless fillets, and that was, like, 6 months ago. The development of vegan seafood is still in its infancy, and most of my experience in this realm has been limited to taking large sculpted frozen “lobster” out of the frozen food case at Asian grocery stores, dancing it around with a Sebastian-like accent, and then throwing it back from whence it came. So it was with hesitance that we happened upon these phony prawns and decided to give them a try.
Sophie’s Kitchen™ is a company that specializes in creating vegetarian seafood, a task I think is about as difficult as surgery, so more power to them. I had heard decent things about the brand and was curious to give them a try. The vegan prawns come with the promise of delicious seafood-y goodness suitable for both vegetarians and those allergic to shell-fish (an application, in my narcissism, I hadn’t even thought of). Right off the bat, when examining the ingredients, what’s interesting is that this phony fish is predominantly carbohydrates. That’s right: no soy, no gluten, no Quorn™-style mycoprotein. Instead, the bulk of the prawns are composed of potato starch and konjac powder, a yam native to Asia. Do a wikipedia search on this guy. I dare you.
The prawns come vacuum-packed and frozen. Assuming they were akin to regular shrimp (my bad), I lovingly defrosted them in the microwave under a damp paper towel. Once slightly warmed I got down to our review. First impressions: well, they didn’t look bad, per se. They were kinda cartoonish and large, but Sophie or whomever made an honest effort to replicate real shrimp coloring and shape, and I was not expecting perfection. These shrimp were also WIGGLY, very gelatinous and sponge-like. Ok, that’s cool. Yet again, few people pick up a shrimp and don’t expect a little jiggle, so I allowed it.
Smell-wise was where things started to go downhill. The scent was distinctive. I found it diminished slightly with additional cooking, but there was no denying a wall paper paste odor present. I’ve heard others describe it as “earthy” or “dirt-like” (this is probably from all that yam) but honestly, no seafood-like odor was hanging around at all. And yeah, maybe some people might think this is a good thing. After all, no one’s rubbing shrimp on their wrist in preparation for a night on the town. But really, nothing in the scent of these prawns indicated seafood of any kind. And the scent that was present was pretty unpleasant.
This is where I got scared. I haven’t felt this way in a while. This was a Fear Factor™-style scared, that feeling when a reluctant contestant takes that spoonful of whatever non-food they’re been forced to eat, brings it up to their lips, and winces. Respect to Sophie and all, but these guys were not good. No gagging here, but the taste was bad. They were about as blah and tasteless as you could imagine, and that combined with the unbecoming scent and super gelatinous texture, this phony meat was an epic fail.
I am never one to go on first impressions, so I figured I’d give these prawns another go. I cooked them some more, tried them with cocktail sauce, even whipped up an impromptu scampi with some garlic, butter, and white wine. Uhm, no. Still no.
I look forward to trying the rest of Sophie’s Kitchen™ products (I’ve heard great things about the crab cakes!) but these little guys went the same way of Sebastian. Returned to the dust from whence they came.
But no seriously, I threw them out.
What are they? Molded, presumably extruded pieces of yam and potato starch with added seaweed-based gelatin and paprika for color. About 9 “prawns” to a box, runs roughly $6-7 online.
Pros: Wiggly texture is slightly akin to genuine shrimp. Low in calories, fat, and contains a decent amount of fiber (3 g) per serving.
Cons: Plenty. Scent and flavor are at best off-putting and at worst offensive. Flavor is not even remotely close to seafood and does not seem to improve even with plenty of oil and seasoning. Texture is pretty unappealing and coupled with the flavor and texture, these prawns border upon inedible.
What can they be used for? If (and only if!) they strike your fancy, they can be served up with cocktail sauce, featured in a scampi, or perhaps breaded and fried.
TL;DR: Ok. So vegan seafood is tough to do right. We get it. However, these yam-based pseudo shrimp are pretty unimpressive and coupled with a hefty price tag, we can’t help feeling that we were slightly had. Sponge-like, smelly, and sadly tasteless, Sophie might want to consider going back to the drawing board.
Just as a note, many of our recent fake meat reviews come courtesy of an awesome endowment from the Bill & Martha Foundation. Congratulations and thank you!