What happens when you take the meat out of meat buns?

Japan is becoming more aware of the plant-based lifestyle, like the plant-based “Komeda Is □” cafe, and recently our Japanese-language reporter Takashi Harada made an interesting discovery at his local supermarket by Japanese confectionary company Imuraya: vegan nikuman, or meat buns, made with soy meat.

▼ Even the picture on the package looks like a non-plant-based nikuman.

This “soy meat man” has been manufactured since July 2020, and when it first came out, it was pretty popular but since it contained eggs, it wasn’t considered vegan. Recently, though, they renewed their recipe so that it no longer includes any animal products.

▼ Slowly but surely, vegan options like this are growing in number.

A pair of soy meat buns cost Takashi 278 yen (US$2.25). It’s a bit expensive for a typical nikuman, which typically costs 130 yen a pop, but it wasn’t a large enough difference for him to complain. He zapped it in the microwave, then cut it in half to examine its insides.

▼ Would you be able to tell this is plant-based?

It could have fooled him! To Takashi, this looked convincingly like a meat-based nikuman. It didn’t even smell overwhelmingly like soy, further confusing his senses.

▼ This isn’t the normal way to eat it, by the way; it’s just for science.

Spoiler: it turned out to be the best-tasting soy meat Takashi had ever tried. The texture was just like a normal meat-based nikuman (typically filled with pork). Umami-filled ingredients like bamboo shoots and shiitake mushroom helped convince him even more.

▼ “Tastes just like meat!!”

The only thing missing was the typical juiciness of meat, but it wasn’t enough for him to downgrade its deliciousness. And when he considered the fact that it had zero cholesterol, he thought that from a health perspective, this could be a regular snack in his rotation.

▼ But did it pass Takashi’s other important taste test?

He still had one thing to test: would it pair well with a popular nikuman dipping sauce made of vinegar and soy sauce from his hometown of Fukuoka?

▼ Step one: drown in vinegar soy sauce.

He swiftly prepared the sauce and gave the soy meat man a nice, long dip. To his pleasant surprise, it was delectable! He gave it a perfect score.

▼ Here’s one more closeup of the soy meat to convince you even more.

All in all, Takashi thinks everyone should give this soy meat bun a try, especially if you want to incorporate more plant-based foods into your diet for health reasons. It tastes a lot better than some soy meat products on the market, and it pairs well with everything that nikuman is supposed to pair with. And to chase it down, you can have an apple pie ice cream bar from the same company!

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