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Thursday, October 15, 2009


TFFG Rates Morningstar Farms “Meatless” Meat Products

The Frozen Food Guy recently assembled an unbiased taste test panel to answer the burning question, “can Italian sausage, hickory barbecue ribs, and maple-flavored sausage patties ever be meatless?”

Our intrepid TFFG panel took on the “meaty” task--or in this case, non-meaty--of taste-testing three new meatless products from Morningstar Farms: Italian Sausages, Maple Flavored Sausage Patties, and Hickory BBQ Riblets.

Each of the three products was prepared by following the cooking directions printed on their respective packages. The patties were prepared in the oven; the sausages on the stove top; and the barbecue ribs in the microwave. Prep times ranged from 7 minutes for the ribs to 12 minutes for the patties.

The package indicates that the oven is the preferred method for the patties but they can be prepared in a skillet on the stovetop or in a microwave. The riblets can also be prepared in the oven, but requires 30 minutes for heating and up to 3 minutes for cooling. The sausage offers the most flexibility as it can also be prepared on the grill (just 4 1/2 minutes) or in the microwave (even less time--2 minutes and 45 seconds).

Our four panelists were asked to sample each product and rate them on three key criteria: taste, texture/appeal, and similarity to their meat counterparts. The panelists were asked to rank each category from 1 (excellent) to 5 (bad). Our panelists were Mike, Mercedes, Patty and Massimo.

Let’s break down the results for each product individually:

HICKORY BBQ RIBLETS: MorningStar Farms might have bitten off more than it could chew, so to speak, in trying to replicate ribs and the barbecue sauce. It seems to have gotten the sauce right, but not so much with the ribs. “The meat dish this most closely resembles is meat loaf,” said Mercedes. “It only looks like ribs. The sauce is overwhelming but the after-taste is good.” Mike agreed: “The sauce stands alone as acceptable but the rib texture and taste fails. The smoky flavor is retained, but what is missing is the fatty delicious flavors of ribs.” He added that it was “somewhat mushy,” but said the visual of the ribs--indents on the surface like bone indents--was “nicely accomplished.”

Massimo said the “sauce overwhelmed but it grows on one,” whereas Patty said the “after-taste is delicious,” adding “I would definitely get full on it.”

Not surprisingly, Patty gave BBQ Riblets a solid 2.3 score and Massimo came in right down the middle with a 3. It went downhill from there though, as Mercedes found it no better than a 4.3 and Mike was even less impressed, giving it poor marks across the board for a very low 4.7. TOTAL SCORE AVERAGE: 3.6

MAPLE FLAVORED SAUSAGE PATTIES: The panel gave this one an “almost there but not quite” score. The taste made an impression with all four panelists. Patty found it “very tasty, nice spices. I like the maple taste. But two [a serving size is one patty] is not enough to get full.” Mike also said it was a nice taste but a “bit mushy.” He added that it “needs a firmer texture” For Mercedes, the taste “starts out too bland, then settles into a salty aftertaste. It lingers too long. The texture is too chewy and grainy.”

Mike further waxed poetic about the sausage patties, noting that “maple gives it a flavor aspect, a mirage of what it aspires to... a bittersweet mirage...for once in your mouth, it dissolves and leaves you hungering for the real thing.” Hmmmm. Massimo made note that “it shouldn’t have to be too meat-like in taste.” So, points earned there for being meatless!
A 2.7 was the highest mark given to the Maple Sausage Patties (Patty), while two panelists scored it much lower at 3.7. Our fourth panelist, Massimo, was right in the middle again with a 3 rating. TOTAL SCORE AVERAGE: 3.3

ITALIAN SAUSAGE: This product fared well with the panel overall, but it did lose points for being “chalky” and “mealy.” Mike suggested adding a “moisturizing agent” and further charged that a pepper spice flavor was added to “disguise its phoniness.” Ouch.
Italian Sausage was the only product to receive a coveted “1” rating in any of the three judging categories with the high honor coming from Patty for taste. She scored it at “2” for texture and appeal. She remarked that the sausage looks like its meat counterpart “but doesn’t taste that much like it” and gave it a right-in-the-middle 3 for her third score. Her average score of 2 was the highest for any of the 3 products rated by each of the four judges.

Overall, this product not only got the highest marks, but it spurred the most comments in regard to pairing it with other foods for enhancement. “It would be great with tomato sauce or a Dijon mustard sauce or a balsamic-based vinegar sauce to cover the taste of chalkiness,” said Massimo. “It would work as a pork dish or with a sauce that disguises the mealy texture,” Mercedes suggested.

Mike noted that “on its own, the differences stand out. It might be better on a roll with other foods.” He said it was an “OK substitute” to its meat counterpart “in the taste area but not in the texture.”

After Patty, the second highest score came from Massimo with a 2.3. The other two panelist had identical 3.3 ratings. TOTAL SCORE AVERAGE: 2.7.

TFFG SAYS: These three products were served with both red and white wine, and the kitchen and dining room were rich in pleasant aromas and wonderful food-related conversation. The panelists provided some very thoughtful commentary and we hope the folks at Morningstar Farms and Kellogg will take that to heart as they fine-tune these three products and explore other new endeavors in the line. Overall, of the four panelists, Patty has become a real Morningstar Farms product fan and has further inquired about these and other products under the brand.

Morningstar Farms suggested retail price for each product is $4.29. The riblets come two to a package while the sausages are four to a package. Each package of sausage patties contains six patties. For more information, go to

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