MUNICH — Surely vegan offerings are healthier, and easier on the figure. More natural in any case. Many consumers have even become moralistic about the vegan products they put into their shopping baskets. But a survey by a Hamburg consumer group, the Verbraucherzentrale, shows that these attitudes and expectations are often wrong. They tested 20 vegan food products — mainly tofu sausages, cheese alternatives and soy drinks — and only two emerged with relatively good marks.
Four of the products were notable for their high fat content. Among those were a milk-free Hirtenkäse, or herder’s cheese, that contained 40% more fat than standard feta. In five of the products, the testers found high levels of saturated fatty acids that are considered damaging to both the heart and circulation. And the testers also found unusually high salt content in five cases: 100 grams of some meat-replacement products and spreads contained a third of the daily recommended amount of sodium.
The testing also showed that many vegan products are not necessarily natural. “Imitating animal products partly means using more additives because in most cases you couldn’t make the product at all if you didn’t, or at least not with a similar taste,” Verbraucherzentrale reports. Additives include thickeners, dyes and artificial aromas.
Vegans and vegetarians who do not banish any and all processed products from their diets cannot escape the tricks of the food industry. When it comes to names, for example, something like “Bio-Plus-3” may sound organic, but it requires reading the small print on the package to discover that it’s contents are not entirely natural. Meanwhile, a cranberry bar turns out to contain mainly almonds, date paste and only a smattering of berries.
A picture of the Swiss Matterhorn is depicted on one drink package, even though the ingredients come from various European countries. But on most product packaging, consumers would be unable to ascertain where the main ingredients were sourced. Processed vegan products usually end up frustrating consumers eager to buy regional because they want to help reduce long-haul fuel use and support the local economy.
The Verbraucherzentrale also calls for more transparency by the manufacturers of vegan products when it comes to dealing with consumer inquiries. Only 40% of the companies it contacted responded to questions within three weeks. “And in only a few cases could the contact be described as good,” the testers write.