Meatless, milkless and delicious

Vega also sells fun products, like an egg-free matza ball mix at Passover. For Independence Day, picnickers devoted to toasted marshmallows can pick up a bag of the Vega gelatin-free product.

A snack of Vega cheese and ‘tape-Nooch’ tapenade (photo credit: Courtesy)
A snack of Vega cheese and ‘tape-Nooch’ tapenade
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Strolling through the annual Culinaria food industry exhibit in Tel Aviv, I stopped by a stand promoting the Vega company, distributors and producers of vegan products.
Although I’m not normally drawn to veganism, the hot foods looked attractive, and smelled so tempting that I asked for samples. Friendly Tzippi Witz, marketing manager and American immigrant, spooned tastings of a “bolognese sauce” and “shwarma” into small bowls. The meat alternatives were delicious, very much like the real thing with their mouth feel and flavors. I would have happily ordered a portion of either if the event were in a restaurant.
There was also an attractive platter of sliced vegan cheeses. I instinctively hesitated to sample, since I’d just eaten “meat.” It took a moment to remember that the meat was parve, and that the cheeses, being made without animal milk, were parve too. I was surprised at how authentic the mozzarella, standard yellow cheese and Parmesan alternatives tasted. The Parmesan, in particular, stood out. Witz mentioned that the yellow cheese comes in herbed, olive, and hot pepper variations.
While it seems strange to open a sealed package and shake “meat” out of it to season and cook, I see such products becoming pantry staples in a home where a family member or visitor is vegan.
“You don’t have to be 100% vegan to enjoy Vega foods,” affirms Witz.
Lactose-intolerant people who love eggplant parmesan can enjoy it again with vegan cheese that tastes like the old days. Since many Vega products are gluten- free, celiac patients can devise more interesting menus. And those obliged to eat low-cholesterol foods can smile over a dish of pasta with “meat” sauce.
“The founders of Vega are five Israelis who have been dealing with organic foods for many years,” Witz explained.
“Over time, some have become vegan.
Two years ago, after many long conversations regarding health, respect for animal life, and eating “clean” food, we decided to start an alternative food company. Our goal is to make it easier to live a vegan lifestyle. You don’t have to go without the flavors and textures of animal-based foods now.
“As for the ‘clean’ issue, all our products are free of artificial flavors and colors.
Anything made with soy beans is non-GMO. Everything we sell is kosher.
And naturally, we make sure that all our alternative foods taste great.
“Some ask us, ‘If you’ve gone vegan, why do you need foods that remind you of your old style of eating?’ The simple answer is that people become vegan for various ethical or health reasons, and they miss the old foods. We’re here to help the transition.”
I mentioned that the products seem costly; not economical for a large family bent on a dinner of mac and cheese, for instance.
“You don’t need much of any product at a time,” responded Witz. “You’re not going to cook a big mac and cheese every day; not even every week. And some products’ prices are comparable to conventional foods. Our block cheese for grating, for example, sells for NIS 17 for 200 grams.
“Another example is our Indian black salt that makes foods taste like eggs,” she continues. “I’ve served a tofu-based ‘egg salad’ to guests that couldn’t tell there were no eggs in it. All it takes is a pinch of the black salt in the dish. Two hundred grams of the salt lasts forever.”
Vega also sells fun products, like an egg-free matza ball mix at Passover. For Independence Day, picnickers devoted to toasted marshmallows can pick up a bag of the Vega gelatin-free product.
There are three egg alternatives, including a vegan omelet mix that comes in regular and herb flavors, which are made of pea protein and starches. The chopped-meat alternative used in the bolognese sauce is made of pecans, gluten- free oatmeal and chickpeas. I’m sort of glad I didn’t know that beforehand; I never would have believed that such a combination could produce something so meaty and good.
“We’re very transparent about our ingredients,” said Witz. “They’re all on the labels.”
She mentioned that Vega cooperates with other Israeli vegan groups. The Vegan-Friendly organization, which awards vegan certificates to eligible restaurants, staged a vegan barbecue in Ra’anana two years ago. The event drew 4000 visitors. Vega had a stand and representatives there, and is also always present at the annual Vegan Congress in Tel Aviv, which most recently took place in February.
Many of Vega’s products are imported, but the company is working on developing more foods made in Israel.
Some are still in the works; the shwarma I sampled will be on the market later. For interested readers, Vega products are widely available in health food stores and in Shufersal branches around the country. Witz said that some of the products, such as the meat and egg substitutes, are stable at room temperature but are often placed in supermarket refrigerators.
Look in the “green” section in Shufersal branches to find Vega products.
Well-known health food stores like Nitzat Haduvdevan and Eden Teva Market carry Vega products, and so do many others. However, as a customer I’d say it’s a good idea to call the local health-food store ahead of your shopping trip and ask if they have the products you want. You can also view Vega products on their website.
What I particularly like is that the company is very accessible to the public. If a customer has questions about the ingredients or even asks for a recipe, she can call them up and they will gladly address her vegan issues by phone. Their Facebook page is another good resource for information.
Will I convert to veganism? Not likely.
But I’ll more than probably shop for parve “meat” on occasions when I’m planning a fancy menu with a spectacular dairy dessert.
As Witz said, you don’t have to be 100% vegan to enjoy Vega.
More information: 1-800-40-40-20 and (in Hebrew).