Gardein Trios

Gardein Trios

I Paid: $3.69 for a 10.5-ounce meal (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 1 stars

Marketing: 5 stars

There are few better ways to polarize a food conversation than to mention fake meat. Though plenty of good versions exist (Tofurky, for instance), there are just as many that make vegetarians weep and meat eaters shake their heads in empathy. (Or point and laugh, but we’re presuming a modicum of human decency here.)

Sadly, Gardein Trios fall into the second category. “Sadly” because these refrigerated vegetarian entrées look delectable based on their clean, bright packaging; high-quality food photography; and appealing marketing concept: protein + veggies + rice (there’s your trio) with a sauce. Prep is relatively easy, too—just microwave the sealed plastic refrigerated packets or heat them in boiling water.

The Thai and Sicilian Trios are both stuffed meatballs with a sauce and rice; Burgundy is faux-beef pieces with sauce and rice. I sampled all three and had one uniform reaction: “Bleagh.”

First, the Thai meatball. I have no idea what this dish was modeled after, Thai-food-wise. It was a fake chicken meatball stuffed with red peppers, bamboo shoots, and tomato, in a sweet but otherwise uninteresting red curry sauce that was Ragú-esque. Both it and the Sicilian variety looked … well, let’s just say unappetizing. A slimy beige mass isn’t what anyone wants to confront for lunch, and it suggests unpalatable comparisons, sauce or no.

If you’re curious, the 10 first ingredients in the Sicilian and Thai Trios’ meatballs are water, nongenetically engineered soy protein, vital wheat gluten, ancient grains (quinoa, amaranth, millet, and kamut), natural flavors (from plant sources), potato starch, expeller pressed canola oil, pea protein, modified vegetable gum, and carrot fiber.

In theory, there’s no reason that this combination can’t taste good, but rest assured, it doesn’t. The fake meat is “off”—lacking richness, depth of spice, or a level of umami that would give you anything to hang onto. Deeply unsatisfying. And there’s the mouthfeel problem, which the weak, watery sauce and austere, almost tasteless rice can’t correct. It’s neither meatlike nor vegetal, but rather somewhat rubbery.

While the mock beef in the Burgundy Trio looks close enough to legit—meatlike chunks that resemble a sawed-up steak—the flavor was, again, underseasoned and depressingly dull.

There’s a lot to like about these meals, in terms of their nutritional content, organization, packaging, and marketing. If only the flavor could be knocked into shape.

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