Lightlife Plant-Based Ground Product Review and Recipe Test
If you frequent any vegan news sites or spend any amount of time on vegan social media platforms, you’ve probably heard about Lightlife’s new Plant-Based Ground. The company’s website claims that the product has the same taste and texture as ground beef. It also makes quite a lot of claims regarding versatility, stating it’s perfect for use in things such as tacos, lasagna, and chili.
So, when I stumbled upon this product at my local Fresh Thyme Farmer’s Market this weekend, I just had to pick some up. I figured I would document my experience here for anyone that’s curious.
As a disclaimer: I purchased this product with my own money. This is not sponsored. This is 100% my own opinion and is in no way intended to offend anyone. Also, because the product claims to have the same taste and texture as beef, I will be comparing it to beef. I will also be comparing it to other vegan meats, such as the Beyond Burger, just to see how it stacks up.
As previously mentioned, I purchased this product from my local Fresh Thyme Farmer’s Market. It was $5.99 for a 12oz package. For comparison, Beyond Burgers cost the same amount at the same store, but contain only 8oz of product. So, for the same price, you’re getting a bit more for your buck.
Upon opening the package, you’ll see that it definitely has a fairly strong resemblance to ground beef. It has that “fresh out of the meat grinder” look.
As far as the smell, it had a beefy scent that reminded me of a much, much more toned-down version of the smell Beyond Burgers have. A lot of people have compared the smell of uncooked Beyond Burgers to cat food, so if you dislike that smell, you’ll appreciate how subtle this product’s scent is.
The uncooked texture of it is definitely really meat-like. The only thing I’d say is that it’s noticeably more homogeneous than ground beef, which I remember having a sort of coarseness to it. My partner, who’s also vegan, found it to be creepily similar to beef and was actually grossed out upon touching it.
Trying the Product on its Own:
Now, the first thing I wanted to do was taste this product on its own without any additional flavors added. So, I decided to brown a very small amount up in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat for about four minutes, moving the bits around occasionally. I didn’t add any oil to aid in browning, because I wanted to see how the product reacted on its own.
I was surprised to find that the product doesn’t render fat the way that ground beef, or the Beyond Burger does for the matter. It also retained most of that pink color, courtesy of the beet powder in the product.
Upon tasting, the first thing I noticed was how soft it was. I’d cooked it over fairly high heat for a good amount of time, so this surprised me. Some pieces got a little crispy, which was nice. But the pieces were still quite mushy. My partner agreed regarding the texture. We both found the flavor to be really nice, however. As I’d hoped, the flavor is subtly beefy but still neutral enough that you can customize the flavor without fear of the product’s own taste overpowering the dish. However, I definitely didn’t find it to be convincing whatsoever as a ground beef substitute.
Trying it in a Recipe:
With the first part out of the way, I wanted to try the product out in a recipe. I originally thought I’d try making something simple, like tacos. But, there are already so many great vegan beef crumble products out there, such as the ones made by Gardein, Boca, Beyond Meat, Trader Joe’s, etc. The real appeal of this particular product, in my opinion, is the ability to make things such as meatballs or meatloaf.
Considering the softness I experienced when cooking the product on its own, I decided to go with meatballs since they’re smaller and should cook through more quickly. So, I used this recipe and adjusted the amounts by 1/4, for this quantity of vegan ground. I also added in a little bit of vegan Parmesan and some fennel seed, just for some extra flavor. Upon mixing, I was happy to see that it combined really well with other ingredients. We went ahead and formed the balls, which we measured out to be two tablespoons each.
Ignore the giant pieces of basil, I got lazy when I started chopping. Anyways, when we began forming the balls, I was very pleased with how well they held their shape. They held together extremely well.
Afterwards, I decided to pan fry them in a little bit of olive oil so I could see how well they browned. I fried them off for about 8 minutes, in a large non-stick skillet. I gave the pan a good shake every so often to ensure they cooked on all sides. They browned beautifully, as you can see below.
Afterwards, they were still holding together really well. But… they felt incredibly soft. I decided to try baking them in a preheated 350 F oven for 15 minutes on a lined baking sheet.
Once they came out again, the texture really hadn’t changed. My partner and I tried a bite of one, we both found it to be incredibly mushy. So, we returned it to the oven for another 15 minutes.
Once they came out of the oven for the final time, I gave up. They had baked for 30 minutes at that point and were still mushy. Although the edges had become almost crumbly.
Finally, I tossed them in a bit of marinara sauce and served them on top of some spaghetti with fresh basil and cashew parm. I normally would like to try simmering them in the sauce, but as soon as I coated them in the warm marinara, I noticed they were already continuing to soften further. So, I thought that would be a bad idea.
So, the end result was quite tasty. I mean, you can’t go wrong with spaghetti. There were tons of awesome flavors going on. However, the meatballs ended up being a bit of a disappointment. The longer they sat in the sauce the more they turned to mush. They honestly required almost no chewing, that’s how soft they were. I decided to ask my non-vegan mom try these, and she described them as having a “sawdusty” texture. My partner compared them to vegan meatballs that we previously tried that were made entirely of ground nuts, which wasn’t really a favorable comparison.
I have no idea what the hell happened to the texture. I would blame the recipe, but the texture of the product itself was pretty mushy to begin with. I may pick up another package and try it in tacos, just to see how that goes. But, to be honest, I just wouldn’t see the point in purchasing this product in the future. If I’m going to use a vegan beef for tacos, I’d just go for a product like Gardein Beefless Crumbles.
The only appeal of this product, for me, was in the possibility of using it for recipes such as meatballs or meatloaf since there aren’t many “moldable” vegan beef products on the market yet. This one definitely fell short, and I personally didn’t find it to be really convincing as a beef substitute.
If I were to rate this product, I’d give them 2.5/5 stars. It wasn’t offensive or disgusting by any means, but I was far from impressed even though I desperately wanted to love it. In the future, I’d probably just buy a pack or two of the Beyond Burgers and use those as a ground beef substitute instead. At least until I can get my paws on this stuff.
I’m honestly really curious to see what others think of this product. If you’ve tried it, leave me a comment below, or contact me on Instagram @Bitchy_Baker
If you’ve made it this far in the review, I love you <3 Thanks for reading!