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KaiMay 17, 2024

Fake bacon, ranked from worst to best


This is the Mount Everest of artificial meatcraft.

Ah, bacon. Pig’s gold. Toast’s consolation. Dawn’s savoury embrace. 

If meat was a currency, bacon would be the Benjamin Franklin. Or if you’re feeling patriotic, the Lord Rutherford. 

When it comes to fake bacon, the obvious question is: why bother? In the world of fake meat, bacon is one of the hardest flavours and textures to accurately replicate. 

Other meats have it easy. Fake chicken nuggets are virtually indistinguishable from your average Happy Meal. You can drown vegan mince in a perfectly respectable gravy or bolognese. The hotdogs and sausage rolls are so good, you could serve them at a children’s birthday party without complaint. There was even a beautiful period of time where you could buy a surprisingly delicious fish substitute, called Gardein Meat Free Vegetarian Meal Golden Fishless Vege Fillets 288g, which to my everlasting sorrow, are no longer available. Gardein Meat Free Vegetarian Meal Golden Fishless Vege Fillets 288g we love you, get up. 

But fake bacon stands alone. It’s the Everest of artificial meatcraft. Real bacon is so good that any attempt at forgery is ultimately disappointing. Still, we’ve come a long way in a short amount of time. These days, we live in a cornucopia of fakery. I remember when the only product even vaguely resembling fake bacon at a New Zealand supermarket was a kind of untranslatable ham substitute you could only find in the freezer section of your local Asian grocer. It wasn’t unpleasant, but it was closer to a Second World War ration than something you’d enthusiastically order for brunch.

Anyway, here they are: fake bacons – fakens – ranked from worst to best. 

5. Grater Goods Faken Smoky Maple Seitan Rashers ($12)

I wanted to like this. I really did. My hopes were so high. It was the only faken I couldn’t source locally, and it arrived through the post in a silver freezer box full of reusable icepacks, which was extremely convenient because I’m forever giving myself first-degree burns. 

The package came delicately wrapped in brown tissue paper, like an expensive woman’s hat from a 1940s department store. The packaging was elegant and refined. There were only four rashers in the entire pack, which seemed elevated and gourmet. 

The faken itself didn’t look anything like bacon. It more closely resembled an elbow patch on a philosophy professor’s cardigan, and, I’m sorry to say, tasted like it. I tested each of these fakens with a friend, and we both agreed this was the worst of the bunch. There was an odd, lingering aftertaste, like the memory of raisin, or a particularly hostile variety of spiced cardboard. I’m sorry to say I couldn’t finish my slice, and am unlikely to be using the rest of it in any forthcoming meals. 

Sorry Grater Goods! If it makes you feel any better, I’m not exactly known for my sophisticated palate. But I appreciate the complimentary ice packs. 

4. Sunfed Boar Free Bacon Premium Hickory ($8)

Coming in at number four is the perfectly respectable and soon-to-be-extinct Sunfed boar.

NZ Founder and CEO Shama Sukul Lee recently announced that Sunfed is shutting its doors this year. This is a shame, because this fake bacon occupies a different culinary niche than some of the other products on this list. If, like me, you’re one of those people who likes their bacon burned to a crisp, Sunfed Boar comes closest to replicating that fragile, pleasantly carcinogenic texture. 

The main issue is it’s an absolute nightmare to cook. Trying to gently separate each slice from the vacuum-packed, papier-mâché slab of meat is an exercise in rage and futility. Even with a pair of tweezers and a sharp knife, I felt like the lead forensic scientist excavating a submarine implosion, peeling viscera from the torpedo room walls. Sure, it tastes good, but at what cost?

3. Vegie Delights Bacon Style Rashers ($10.79)

This faken is barely even pretending. It looks like a heavy-duty Second World War sticking plaster you’d find at the bottom of an elderly relative’s first aid kit. It’s thick, almost offensively pink, and sort of resembles a fruit roll-up. 

But despite appearances, it’s surprisingly delicious and moist. There’s a pleasant kind of sweetness to it, and it has a light, almost spongy texture. It’s the kind of product you could put on a picky vegetarian child’s Hawaiian pizza without them wrinkling their nose. The flavour isn’t as smoky or deep as some of the other fakens on this list, but it’s perfectly serviceable and relatively pleasant. 

2. Let Them Eat Vegan Not Bacon ($10)

As I mentioned, I judged these products with the help of a friend, and our rankings were identical, besides the top two candidates. We debated which product deserved the top spot. But I’m the one handing out ribbons. 

This “not bacon” from Ōtepoti-based vegan company, with, no offence, perhaps the worst company name I’ve ever heard, easily outstripped the earlier candidates. It was smoky and dense with maple undertones. Despite living in Dunedin for almost a year, I had no idea this company existed, and as far as I can tell, its products are only available locally. 

This is one of the few fakens to visually attempt the classic fat marbling. My only gripe was, it tasted absolutely nothing like bacon. It was delicious, but more closely resembled a slice of ambiguously flavoured tempeh. I will be buying this again, but probably not as a bacon substitute. It’s better on its own terms, without the weight of comparison on its honey-cured shoulders. 

1. Next! Extra Crispy Bacon Style Strips ($11)

My aspiration, upon embarking upon this ranking, was to discover a groundbreaking new fake-meat product, that would effortlessly win my allegiance and grind its competitors’ faces into the dirt. But in the end, the best fake bacon on the list was the one I always buy from the supermarket. 

To my taste, this faken is superior on all counts. It comes in a delightfully greasy package and is easy to separate and cook. It has elegant strips of white marbling, doesn’t dry out, and has the most convincingly bacon-y flavour. Best of all, you can cook it to your personal satisfaction – whether you prefer your rashers extra crispy, or flaccid and pink, like a ribbon worm. It’s the only faken on the list I would contemplate serving “as is” with a side of toast and eggs.  

It’s not perfect. It’s certainly no bacon. But as far as imitations go, it’s pretty damn good. 

Honourable mention

The Wise Boys Vegan Burgers fake bacon can’t be bought in stores and is only available on the menu at the two Auckland locations in selected burgers. It’s unbelievably delicious, texturally perfect and is the only fake bacon I’ve ever tried that doesn’t suffer in comparison to the original. I reached out to one of the co-founders to ask what they used, and was told the faken was made in-house, with a rice paper base, and a “secret combination of flavours”. I wouldn’t exactly describe the New Zealand fake meat market as booming, but here’s hoping Wise Boys add bacon to their newish supermarket range. 

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