Food substitutions have never appealed to me. I guess I’m just a real-thing kind of person. Since being diagnosed as lactose intolerant, five years ago, I haven’t had coffee with milk.
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I tried every alternative, such as soy milk, rice milk and almond milk. They all had an off-taste or an odd consistency and didn’t even remind me of the real thing. So I gave up. I’ll drink espresso or black coffee and fantasize about vanilla iced coffee or cappuccino with clouds of frothed milk.
When faced with dairy-rich foods that could give me a stomachache, I abstain or have just a taste, hoping I won’t pay too dearly for it later on, in intolerable pain. Occasionally I’ll take a lactase enzyme supplement, which helps to break down the lactose in dairy foods and mitigate its effects.
Nevertheless, I had no objection to organize a taste teste for Domino’s Pizza new vegan pizza, with soy-based cheese. The U.S.-based chain isn’t reinventing the wheel here. There are pizzerias that sell vegan pizzas, either without cheese or with nondairy cheese. And let’s not forget that some of the cheaper places have been using imitation, nondairy cheese since well before veganism became trendy.
Because I’m prejudiced against food substitutes, I put together a nonrepresentative panel that included two Haaretz colleagues who are sworn vegans, one who’s a pizza-loving vegetarian and one carnivore, for the sake of balance.
When the pizza was delivered I noticed that instead of the enticing aroma of pizza there was a slightly odd smell. The rules were simple: Taste it and rate it. A few colleagues who passed by absolutely refused to take a taste after they heard the pizza was vegan, which considering it was right before lunchtime must be some kind of record.
We each took a bite. Everyone immediately made the same face, a kind of grimace at the texture of the “cheese”: bizarre, somehow sticky and dry at the same time. It adhered stubbornly to the teeth and palate, and was simply unpleasant.
And the taste? If you closed your eyes (and nose) and really used your imagination, you could take it for a very cheap, mild hard cheese, certainly not mozzarella or other fine cheese. The crust and sauce are regular Domino’s, the “cheese” makes the entire experience very unpleasant. The vegans were excited about having their needs taken into account, but even they weren’t thrilled by the pizza itself.
The verdicts of the panelists
Vegan #1: “Good pizza with a slightly odd consistency. I’d rather have it without the cheese.”
Vegan #2: “Great pizza, but the cheese needs work, it stuck to my teeth.”
The carnivore: “I give the cheese a D, it reminds me of a really bad fake smoked cheese.”
The vegetarian: “The taste and texture of the cheese are a miss.”
And now to the scores (averaged out, on a scale of 1 to 10): crust, 7.8 for both flavor and texture; sauce, 7.2 for both flavor and texture; cheese, 5.0 for flavor and 4.4 for texture. It must be noted that the vegans’ scores raised the overall numbers slightly.
The combined total score for the pizza came to 6.25. All the testers remarked on the off-taste and said they’d never order the vegan pizza themselves. By the way, about a half-hour after the tasting we all still had an unpleasant roughness and even a slight aftertaste in our mouths. Seems I’m not the only one who has a problem with imitations.
Luckily, the (Dutch-style) mini pancakes with chocolate sauce that we ordered for dessert saved the day. They were light and delicious. And, of course, not vegan.