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The Best Vegan Italian Sausage Links
With more options than ever, vegan sausages are booming. How do these Italian-style links stack up to meat sausages, and which brand is best?
Published Mar. 3, 2022.
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What You Need To Know
As more and more plant-based offerings flood the food market, the vegan sausage scene is no exception. What was once a lonely shelf stocked with tofu hot dogs now includes a variety of links: Italian, chorizo, breakfast sausage, and bratwurst.
For this tasting, we focused on Italian-style links, which are the most widely available style of vegan sausage. We tasted four products served two ways: plain, prepared per package instructions in a nonstick skillet, and cooked in our winning jarred pasta sauce. All the sausages held together and browned nicely in the skillet. When cooked in the sauce, none got tough or soggy. We also cooked our highest-ranked sausage in a cast-iron grill pan to see if it held together and got grill marks, which it did.
Are Vegan Sausages Good Stand-Ins for Meat Ones?
Vegan links are made with a variety of plant-based meat substitutes: pea protein, vital wheat gluten, tofu, and even eggplant. Pea protein, in particular, has become quite popular recently in the plant-based protein realm because of its texture, high levels of iron, and dietary flexibility (it’s gluten-free and somewhat less allergenic than soy). Most vegan sausages use a single base ingredient; however, two in our lineup used two bases.
The base protein(s) is (are) augmented with fat (sunflower oil, safflower oil, coconut oil, or canola oil) and a variety of texture enhancers and moisture retainers. But even with this medley of ingredients, replicating the coarse texture and juicy, chewy meatiness of real meat sausage is no easy feat.
The texture of our favorite vegan sausage, which is made with pea protein, didn’t quite get there. The links were a little soft and spongy, but combined with good flavoring and a meaty taste, they most closely resembled real meat sausage. Even though our favorite sausage was made with pea protein, so was our least favorite link, so pea protein as a base didn’t guarantee a good sausage.
The amount of fat per serving, which ranged from 7.5 grams to 15 grams, impacted the juiciness of sausages in addition to adding rich flavor. At 13.5 grams of fat per serving, our highest-rated link, Beyond Sausage Hot Italian, sat near the top of the range. The links with less fat were dry and crumbly.
The type of fat used was also important. The Beyond Sausage contains sunflower oil as well as coconut oil, which has a high melting point and therefore creates small pockets of fat inside. When we sliced into these links, they oozed fat like real meat sausages. Fats that melt at lower temperatures (such as canola and safflower oils) tended to melt out during cooking.
Did They ...
Everything We Tested
While a few tasters found these terra-cotta-red sausages a little soft for their liking, many thought they were “meaty” and “fatty and juicy.” There was a bit of heat, which tasters liked, as well as a “faint trace of fennel.” The calcium alginate casing sloughed off in pieces during searing and grilling, causing some sticking, but the sausages still held together and got a decent char. They were quite tasty when cooked in marinara and served with pasta.
Recommended with reservations
Prepping these sausages was a bit of a pain, since the inedible plastic casings had to be peeled off before the links could be cooked. But once exposed, the exterior got nicely browned and crispy. Most tasters found the sausages (which had less fat) quite dry, saying they were “very starchy/carby” and “superchewy.” They were amply seasoned, with “lots of dried herb flavor” and “very big pieces of red pepper.”
This sausage had a strange texture that tasters described as “bouncy,” “shaggy,” and “somewhere between a paste and an overworked (real) meat patty.” Tasters’ palates were overwhelmed by “molasses,” “baking spice,” “ginger,” and even “cinnamon” flavors. One taster summed it up well: “This did not taste like an Italian sausage. It actually tasted a lot like gingerbread.”
Although these links used the same base ingredient as our winner (pea protein), tasters found the texture very off-putting, describing them as “mushy,” and “squishy.” Others compared the texture to “livery paste” and said it was “too soft.” Some tasters found the fennel flavor overpowering. The calcium alginate casing sloughed off in pieces when we cooked the sausages, resulting in a shredded-looking exterior. Even cooking them in our favorite marinara sauce couldn’t redeem the taste and texture of these links.
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