Disclaimer: I was provided Neat at no cost by the company. However, I was neither asked to write this review or compensated to do so.
There are many different vegetarian meat substitutes on the market. Many of them have a long list of questionable ingredients. They may also have ingredients that are off limits to those with allergies to soy or gluten. To be honest some of them also taste awful. I’m always interested when I see a new product trying to solve all of these problems. Neat, a shelf stable mix, is trying to fill the “meat gap” for vegetarians and vegans alike in a more natural way.
Neat isn’t completely new to the market, but sometimes it takes awhile for product to filter down to the Midwest. My first encounter with Neat was just a couple of months ago when it caught my eye on the NEW Products shelf at Mama Jean’s. I was excited to encounter them on Twitter and super excited when they agreed to send me a sample pack of their products to experiment with. They included one package of each flavor: Original, Italian, Mexican and Breakfast. Each flavor is very easy to make. You add egg (or egg substitute) and water. You can shape the Breakfast mix into patties or links, the Italian into balls (aka neat Balls) or the Original into burgers.
I decided to start with my favorite meal: brinner (breakfast for dinner). I was making a tofu frittata with my farmers market finds (link to July Finds post) and some “sausage” on the side sounded perfect. I decided to use chia seeds as a vegan egg replacer. I soaked 1 tbsp. of chia seeds in ½ cup water for about 15 minutes. Then I added the chia seeds to the Neat breakfast patty mix. Only after that did I read the realize I needed a quantity equal to TWO eggs. I decided to just wing it and adjust with the added water. My breakfast patties came out a bit dry. Since the flavor was good, I chalked up the dryness to my error in following directions.
The next night I vowed to follow the instructions perfectly. I made the Neat Balls to serve with spaghetti squash. I tossed the spaghetti squash with olive oil, basil, chili flakes, pepper and Parmesan cheese. I made the Neat mixture with whole eggs and followed the Neat Ball recipe on the back of the package. The Neat Balls browned nicely in the oven and Brian made a comment about how good they smelled while cooking. The flavor was great but once again the finished product came out dry. Brian made the comment that when he wrapped the squash around the Neat Ball it changed the texture a great deal. We decided the Neat products needed extra moisture to live up to their true potential.
I tried a little experiment with one of the leftover breakfast patties. Instead of my usual omelet for Sunday lunch, I decided to make a scramble. I sautéed half a green pepper and half of a small red onion. Then I scrambled one whole egg and three egg whites in the same pan. When the eggs were close to being done I crumbled up the breakfast patty into the egg mixture to warm it up. Once on my plate I added some salsa on top. This is how Neat should be used! It gave me a great sausage flavor and lost its dryness when surrounded by other ingredients. Neat may not stand well on it’s own, but IN something it’s great alternative to soy crumbles or a frozen veggie patty.
As with any meat substitute it’s important to note that Neat doesn’t taste like meat. If you expect it too you will be disappointed. It does taste good but you aren’t going to fool a carnivore. It’s just different. If you accept that up front you’ll find this product a useful and tasty tool in creating new meatless Monday dishes or revamping family classics. Also be aware that the products are made with nuts making them inappropriate for those with nut allergies.
Now that I know with Neat “the secret is in the sauce” I can’t wait to make the lettuce wrap recipe from their blog or create my own new taco recipe.
How do you feel about meat substitutes? What’s your favorite way to make a family favorite meatless? Have you tried Neat?