28 October 2010

A flexitarian perspective of Gardein's veggie-based 'burgundy trio' entree

I’m one of those semi-vegetarians who hasn’t yet made the complete transition into a 100% meat-free lifestyle despite it being in complete alignment with my health, environmental, and animal rights beliefs. I know, I know – what sense does that make? Considering how little animal-based protein I currently consume, it would likely be a relatively easy shift for me, but sharing my life and meals with an enthusiastic carnivore has made me drag my heels just a bit. (Okay…for over a decade, to be exact.)

Due to a relatively recent shift in our work and school schedules, however, I’ve found myself happily flying solo on a meat-free wing and a prayer. Although dining alone makes me inclined to lazily chow down on raisin bran straight out of the box for breakfast, lunch and dinner, I recently expanded my culinary horizons to include the pre-packaged vegetarian convenience offered by Gardein ‘Trio’ complete meals. I realize that there really is no substitute for good old-fashioned home cookin’, but sometimes you just feel like going on strike...and that’s when Gardein comes in especially handy.

For those who desire flavor, convenience, nutritional oomph and a variety of interesting entrée selections, Gardein’s range of plant-based meat substitutes – consisting of a combination of ancient grains, vital wheat gluten, assorted veggie fibers and pea/soy protein enhanced with various spices – is worth serious consideration. Everyone from Oprah Winfrey and Ellen DeGeneres to Alicia Silverstone have sung the praises of this low fat, high protein, vegan-certified meat substitute, but is it palatable enough for veggie-curious yet still mainstream eaters?

Although I consume very little beef today, I recall a simpler time when my mother’s slow-cooked Sunday stew seemed like absolute bliss. With that memory still ripe in my mind, I purchased a 10.5 ounce package of Gardein’s ‘Burgundy Trio’ boasting a modest portion of beefless tips, a separate pouch of vegetable-studded brown sauce and a vacuum-sealed serving of basmati rice. Aesthetically speaking, the rich tone of the sauce was inviting and clearly redolent of aromatic Burgundy wine (which happened to be included among the list of ingredients).

What made an even better impression on me were the clearly visible pieces of mushroom, onion and carrot bits incorporated throughout the sauce along with the surprisingly toothsome consistency of the beefless tips. No, the veg-based protein wasn't exactly an even trade compared to the recollections I have of my mother's stew, but it was pretty reasonable overall. When you consider the type of culinary engineering necessary to transform vital wheat gluten, various types of plant fibers and whole grains into Gardein's meat substitute, it's rather impressive. Overall, this rainy day meat eater feels that they've done a fine job of emulating the textural appearance and 'mouth-feel' of animal protein in a way that is highly palatable, flavorful, nutritious and satisfying.

  • Gardein Beefless Tips are made with ingredients that are entirely free of herbicides and pesticides.
  • The list of ingredients on the back of the package – although extensive (and a reminder that this is a highly processed offering) – are at the very least recognizable with not one single chemical in sight.
  • Gardein Beefless Tips are made with non-genetically engineered soybeans – a huge plus!
  • This entree selection is also cholesterol-free, very high in protein (22 grams per serving) and low in fat (3.5 grams per serving).
  • Lickety-split preparation time -- 3 minutes from microwave to plate.
  • Ideal for kitchen-compromised cooks who desire a healthier alternative to conventional heat-and-eat options or semi-food snobs interested in noshing on a reliable, instant-gratification meal (with a wholesome bonus).
  • Smells and looks like genuine beef tips. When you cut a piece in half with a knife and take a closer look, the striations visually resemble that of real animal-based protein.
  • As a substitute for beef, this option is quite close to the real thing (texture-wise) without mooing, which might make die-hard carnivores more likely to take the vegetarian plunge, at least on a part-time basis.
  • This entrée is an appealing plant-based menu option for anyone making dietary adjustments for health reasons or those who want to embrace Meatless Mondays.
  • For full-time vegetarians and vegans, Gardein's 'Burgundy Trio' injects meal-time with diversity, convenience and an excellent source of protein.
  • Eco-geeks might appreciate the fact that the exterior cardboard packaging is sourced from sustainable forests, is fully recyclable and printed with vegetable inks.


  • With a retail price of roughly $3.99 per 10.5 ounce package, this meal might be considered quite costly to families and anyone adhering to a strict budget -- however, high value coupons can occasionally be found when you shake down the internet. You think I'm kidding? Just try it.
  • Better quality than Banquet or Chef Boyardee yet not quite in line with the refined palate of Whole Foods’ devotees. Would require a more complex range of goodies in the sauce to take it to the next culinary level.
  • Gardein Beefless Tips don’t have an overtly salty flavor, however they contain a relatively high sodium content (29% of the daily recommended value).
  • Despite the manufacturer boasting that there are 4 veggies in each portion of Gardein Beefless Tips -- carrots, onions, mushrooms and garlic -- they appear in very minor amounts and alas, the carrots were a tad too crunchy (in comparison to the rest of the vegetables). Not a deal-breaker, but certainly worth noting.
  • The portion size is ideal for lunch but would need to be augmented with your own vegetables to make it satisfying enough for dinner.
  • The nutritional value of this entrée suffers with the inclusion of white rice – brown would be a far healthier option.
  • Bahhh -- the inner plastic packaging is not recyclable!!
  • Despite the convincing texture of Gardein’s Beefless Tips, die hard meat fans might still be inclined to give it the thumbs down out of trepidation or sheer disbelief. Might be wise to serve it to them under candlelight along with copious amounts of red, red wiiiiine!
If you've had a chance to sample this particular Gardein offering, please take a moment to share your thoughts below. Carnivore, semi-veg, full-throttle vegetarian and vegan perspectives are heartily encouraged :)

Also see: Flexitarian, take two: an honest review of Gardein's veggie-based 'thai trio' entree

Elizah Leigh | @elizahleigh
A dedicated green journalist and currently commissioned to write a comprehensive reference book on vegetarianism, Elizah Leigh hopes to inspire people through her words. Follow Elizah on Facebook.

Photo credit: Gardein/TDIV