Meat for the Meatless: Fake Chicken Gets So Real ‘It’s Freaky’

Synthetic chicken product Beyond Meat is so good, it scares some reviewers into thinking it's real meat.

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Have we transcended the animal necessity of meat? TIME reported on it before it reached the commercial stage, but now the reviews are in from critics and connoisseurs, and it seems that scientists may have finally cracked the code to the perfect synthetic chicken meat: vegetarians (and meat-lovers) rejoice!

Slate writer Farhad Manjoo contemplated Beyond Meat —  a soy-based product that looks, tastes, and feels like chicken meat — and decided that it was as good or better than really chicken (it breaks apart slightly easier, so it doesn’t get stuck in your teeth, a major plus). As the commercial firm behind the new product begins to expand Beyond Meat’s availability, its planned proliferation raises some interesting questions about whether carnivorism will die out — but either way, it’s freakishly realistic.

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Manjoo describes his Beyond Meat experience poetically: “There’s something about the way these fake chicken strips break on your teeth, the way they initially resist and then yield to your chew, the faint fatty residue they leave on your palate and your tongue—something about the whole experience that feels a little too real,” Manjoo writes.

And others agree. Christopher Isaac “Biz” Stone — the vegan Twitter co-founder just made a major investment in Beyond Meat — and he explained his financial move to Co.Exist: “The first reaction I had was, I know this is a meat analogue but if someone were to serve this to me in a restaurant I would have said ‘I think this is a mistake… There’s something about the mouth-feel, the fattiness. It feels fatty and muscly and like it’s not good for you when you’re chewing it. For a long-time vegan, it’s a little bit freaky.”

As TIME reported two years ago, Beyond Meat is the result of more than a decade of research conducted by two scientists at the University of Missouri, Fu-Hung Hsieh and Harold Huff. Ethan Brown, who got his start in the clean energy business, founded the commercial enterprise alongside the researchers in 2009, and he told Manjoo that he sees long-term success for the company for vegetarians and meat-lovers alike.

“Once, we had the horse-drawn carriage, and then we had the horse-less carriage, and then we had the automobile,” Brown told Slate. “I’m firmly convinced we’re going to go from beef and chicken products that are animal in origin to those that are made with plants—and at some point in the future you’ll walk down the aisle of the supermarket and ask for beef and chicken, and like the automobile has no relationship to the horse, what you get will have nothing to do with animals.”

MORE: The Fast-Food Ethicist