Product Review: LightLife Veggie Meats

September 27th, 2011 - filed under: Furthermore » Reviews

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Long-time Bonzai readers have probably noticed that I don’t do a whole lot of reviews around here. There’s a few reasons for this, like that I’m really super duper selective about the products that I use, and that in general I don’t want Bonzai to center around consumerism, and most of all, that I only have a limited amount of time and energy to devote to blogging, so I prefer to focus on my own material. But that being said, I’m not totally opposed to reviews! We all use (and need to use!) products, and as I’ve expressed time and time again, I firmly believe that PRO-cott is as powerful a form of activism as BOYcott.

So anyways, I get lots and lots of emails asking me to try out lots and lots of products, and most of them I just kindly decline. But a few weeks back I received an note from LightLife, makers of Smart Dogs and Tofu Pups, various chik’ns and bacons and burgers (all vegetarian, not all vegan), and a gourmet line of organic tempeh. I usually pass on the processed plant meats, but this particular email gave me pause . . .

Organic tempeh, you say?

Tempeh is my all-time favorite soy product, just pressed and fermented soybeans. This means it’s a “whole” food (minimally processed), and it’s got those good bacteria I love (probiotic power!) And of course, the flavor is totally unique. I couldn’t resist the siren song of this super-healthy, super delicious treat. I emailed back with an enthusiastic “Yes! I would love to try your tempeh!

Well, at some point some wires must have gotten crossed. They are wires, after all, and so they’re prone to doing that. The box that I ended up with did in fact contain some tempeh . . . as well as some vegan sausage . . . and some non-vegan chick’n. Ah well. The chick’n went to a vegetarian friend, and the sausage got stashed in the fridge.

So yes, it’s true that I don’t eat many “omni sub” products any more, but that’s mostly just my own preference. Damian enjoys them, and I certainly recognize the important role they can play in certain situations. I’m thinking about a recent comment from longtime Bonzai reader Melisa, who said:

“Going vegan. FINALLY. Could have done it a LOT sooner if I’d only admitted to myself that the key is MASSIVE AMOUNTS OF VEGAN JUNK FOOD. Eventually, I’ll move to a healthier diet, but allowing myself to eat as many pumpkin oatmeal cookies as I want has made this transition possible.”

First of all, congratulations Melisa! And secondly, thanks for bringing up such a great point. The truth is, when I first when vegan I *also* ate a lot of the pre-made products. They’re fun and new and exciting, and they can also provide that familiar feeling you might be needing to stay on the ol’ veg wagon. One of my favorite blogs, The Vegan RD, has an interesting article relating to this: Healthy Vegan Diets Can Include Meat Analogues

So, anyway, Hi! Tangent! Nice to meet you! Was I supposed to be reviewing food here? Okay, you get my point, moving on . . .

Gimme Lean Ground Sausage

I’d actually tried this product before – years ago when we were working on The Vegan Cheese Report, we used it to make some truly incredible Vegan McMuffins. On of my biggest complaints about most veg meats is that they don’t use enough fat, and it ruins the authenticity. Animal products have FAT, and it makes for a rich flavor that a lot of the alternatives are lacking. So here’s the thing: apparently this sausage is completely fat-free. BUT, I only just found that out when I went to check on the fat content, because I was certain from the taste that this was a high-fat product. In case that sounds convoluted or unclear, that’s is a good thing. The flavor is savory and full-bodied and perfectly sausage-y.

But this time around, the sausage sat in my fridge for weeks (that’s another benefit of plant meats over animal meats, ha!), as I waited for an opportunity to arise. And then one day, it did. Hello in-laws!

I brought this sausage along when we went to visit Damian’s parents. They’re omni but they’re very open-minded, always interested in trying my strange concoctions. So I whipped this out for Sunday brunch, which was a delightful spread of fruit and homemade gluten-free biscuits. And of course, the sausage.

Omni approved! And a great reminder to me, that plant meats definitely have their place. Still . . . I think I’ll mostly stick to tempeh.

BBQ tempeh on a cool ranch and avocado salad. This was so good I’m seriously drooling all over my keyboard just remembering it.

Organic Tempeh

LightLife offers a variety of tempeh “styles”, including flax, garden veggie, soy, three-grain, and wild rice. They’re all quite similar, with that nutty, earthy tempeh flavor, that certain “je ne sais quoi” that results from fabulous fermentation and makes tempeh so damn special. I love it because it’s a bit firmer than tofu, so it holds together well in recipes. This time I cubed, marinated, and grilled it, but it’s also great in stir fry or as a “ground meat” in chili or tacos. Really, tempeh is super versatile and I adore it!

As with any soy product, buying organic is really important, which is why the LightLife stuff is so awesome. If you don’t have access to LightLife anywhere in your town, but you do have a Trader Joe’s, I’m almost certain the TJ’s “house brand” tempeh is actually the LightLife three-grain variety. So give that a try! (I’m really just totally guessing here, I have no “insider knowledge” or anything, but I know TJ’s buys their house brand products from popular, established companies, and the shape/style/flavor is the same, so it makes sense)

Smoky Tempeh Strips

This was a product that was new to me, and, um, I APPROVE. It’s basically a bacon sub, all sweet and savory and smokey and full of amazing deliciousness. But I love it because it’s not actually trying to be bacon – it’s just trying to hit the same spot. And it does! But it does so with it’s own awesome tempeh undertones, an earthy base that’s so hearty and grounding. Yeah, I love this product, and I’ll definitely buy it again. Damian, who is not a huge tempeh fan, loved this as well, which I consider a major win. Yay!

So what are your thoughts on tempeh – yay or nay?

Have you tried any of the LightLife products? What do you think?

  • Brittanyboersma

    I haven’t tried light life products but I do like tempeh a lot. That bbq tempeh salad look soo good!

  • Karmalily

    The closest supermarket to my house (which is within walking distance) sells their tempeh, so I eat it all the time. It’s delicious. I also love their Gimme Lean sausage, and I throw it crumbled into my tofu scrambles. It’s also incredible on a pizza. Or in a burrito. It’s just really good in general. :)

  • ashley

    i LOVE tempeh as well! i have only tried the westsoy brand though, so i will have to give these a try. it definitely took me a couple tries before i started to enjoy the flavor/texture, but now i eat it several times a week. (do you steam your tempeh before you prepare it? i do, but only because Colleen Patrick-Goudreau suggests it to cut the bitterness, which i haven’t noticed because i’ve not tried it without steaming first.) i haven’t tried other veg meat products besides the field roast apple sage sausages and the westsoy seitan (not a fan of seitan, i always feel so gross after i eat it.) however i do make it at home for my husband (omni) who really enjoys it. i tend to stick to whole foods, but if you have any other suggestions for good veg food products i’d love to hear them. :) and your bbq tempeh salad looks fantastic!

  • Meghan2

    Mmm tempeh. Vegan protein wonder. Being all pregnant, allergic to gluten and not a big fan of tofu – tempeh is my favorite “meat” of choice. I agree that I think TJ’s uses that brand… anywho. Tempeh scared me for the longest time, because it was just weird looking and then I got some on a salad once and I was all “This isn’t spongey like tofu! it tastes nutty!”. Then I tried tempeh in various forms and it really is so versatile! It also soaks up flavor beautifully. One of our favorites is to make cornmeal crusted teriyaki tempeh.

    Andrew loves those Gimme Lean sausages, he thinks they make for some of the best vegan sausage breakfast patties.

    Lastly – do you have a recipe for those gluten free biscuits? They look amazing!

  • Natalia

    Love love LOVE tempeh!! So versatile and flavorful!! My carnivorous fiance actually prefers my tempeh “chicken curry” to the real thing!! Just marinate the tempeh in your desired curry sauce, grill or saute and serve over brown rice! Dee-lish and very fiber-ful and flavorful! And blackened tempeh served in a sandwich with a lentil spread and a bevy of veggies makes for a fab lunch! (also carnivorous fiance approved!)

  • Joselle Palacios

    I love my oven roasted tempeh slathered in garlicky marinade (and I must steam the tempeh first or else I don’t like the bitterness). And I LOVE the tempeh fakin bacon by Lightlife. I also love the sweet potato tempeh hash at Sacred Chow in NYC. If you live in or around NYC and say you don’t like tempeh (I used to say that), have their hash. It’s amazing.

  • Alina S

    I have also been making salads with their tempeh! I don’t marinade, just a quick saute with s&p. serve over greens and veggies with a tahini garlic dressing…. nom.

  • Anonymous

    Initially I wasn’t a fan of tempeh, but then I learned to steam it first; now I love love love it. I eat primarily whole foods as well, so I really wanted to get on board with tempeh & am so gladly it finally clicked with me. I really like the smokey strips too. Slap that on a sandwich with some avocado & tomato. :heaven: LightLife is one of my favorite brands (I’ve only had the tempeh products). I actually have half a block in the fridge…an avocado on the counter…& after seeing your salad, I know just what I’m making. Thanks ;)
    p.s. Sometimes I can definitely appreciate honest reviews about products people love & use, but I am TOTALLY with you on not perpetuating consumerism on your blog. THANK YOU.

  • April

    Mmmmmm! All this tempeh talk is making me HUNGRY!!! I try to keep LightLife Soy Tempeh stocked in my fridge on a regular basis. Like AllieFinch, I didn’t like it the first time I tried it … and then I learned about steaming it. My favorite ways to prepare it are as Tempeh ‘Sausage’ Crumbles (via Vegan with a Vengeance) , Spicy Tempeh and Broccoli Rabe with Rotelle(via Veganomicon) and Hot Sauce Glazed Tempeh (also Veganomicon). We (me, my omni-hubby and omni-kiddos) are big big fans of the Fakin’ Bacon.

  • Evebeasco

    I don’t like tempeh. The straight soybean taste is not appealing to me at all. It’s weird though because I’ve really loved other faux meats.

  • Julia

    I LOVE tempeh bacon! It has changed my vegan eating life. My kids loved it with blueberry pancakes and nothing beats a BLT or TLT as my son calls it. I have been wanting to try bbq tempeh “ribs”, but I also had heard to steam it first and for some reason I just can’t get past that extra step.

    Can you post the salad dressage recipe? That look unbelievably good!

  • Juliecswierczek

    I don’t bother steaming tempeh. I eat LightLife and TJ’s tempeh, and I’ve never noticed any bitterness with either of them. (But perhaps this is one of those things where some people can taste it and others can’t, like how some people think cilantro tastes like soap, and others think it tastes like … cilantro.)

    One of the things I like best about tempeh is that you can freeze it and it doesn’t really change, unlike tofu. I don’t live near a TJ’s, but I do a ‘pantry run’ a few times a year, and I love to buy handfuls of their really cheap tempeh and throw it in the freezer.

    The LightLife Smoky Tempeh Strips are awesome. I get them about twice a year and make BLTs. It’s nice to be able to copy the comfort foods of your youth – which is why I agree that processed foods should have a place in the vegan diet.

  • Monika {windycityvegan}


    I use LightLife’s tempeh at least a couple of times a week. I like to grate or crumble it – it soaks up marinades so much better than tofu does. As a special treat, sometimes I’ll buy the Gimme Lean sausage and make itty bitty baby meatballs for Nina. After we cook them we slice them in half and put them on pizza. Specifically, a Chicago Special pizza – NOM. It’s probably a good thing that there isn’t a gluten free version of the Gimme Lean, or else I’d be eating it morning, noon and night!

  • Bliss Doubt

    Vegan junk food and analogs do make the dietary transition easier, no matter what your philosophies of food, eating and animals. I made more progress after discovering “the laziest vegans” blogspot, where the author is quite honest in saying that he would never have been able to remain vegan without convenience foods and substitutes for familiar omni foods. The blog is almost all reviews of packaged foods, except for some interviews with famous vegans.

    I love tempeh bacon too. Mmmm BLT’s with field grown tomatoes, yay.

  • Erin

    I love tempeh! I usually buy whichever organic brand is cheapest, but definitely like the Lightlife products. Especially those smoky strips…

  • Smoret14


  • H. Kate

    I think it was you Sayward who said in an earlier post that when one makes the decision to go vegan or vegetarian it usually happens all at once. That is certainly, what happened in my case.

    No thinking was involved in my going meatless. It was as if all of sudden I acquired a “mental allergy” to animal products. I instantly knew that I could never be a part of the carnivorous majority again. At the same time, I was not equipped with the ingredients or know how to accommodate this huge life style change. Consequently, I wound up living off green juice and massive amounts of tofu

    I am sure others, as well as I, REALLY appreciate and NEED recommendations and sources for “go to” processed Vegan/ Vegetarian meals and snacks while making the transition to homemade eats.

    We all trust that your recommendations are not endorsements Sayward but rather “help” in this transitional period. Please consider this post.

    Sincerely, H. Kate

  • Almazzucca

    i have to add that the best vegan sloppy joe recipe is tons of chopped garlic sauteed in olive oil, add fakin’ bacon cut into small pieces, add bbq sauce. serve warm on a sprouted grain (or whatever) bun. enjoy.

  • Melisa

    Holy shit! It’s like being famous! (; I almost choked on my pumpkin cookie. Anyhow, I can’t wait to try some of these tempeh varieties. That salad with the avocado looks phenomenal.

  • Sayward Rebhal

    I do steam it! I like the bitterness, but it makes it more palatable for Damian. =)

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Haha, your initial tempeh experience made me laugh. I did the same thing!

    The biscuit in the picture is actually just an english muffin (that’s an older pic from the Cheese Report)

    Te biscuits we made with my in-laws were the recipe from the Joy of Cooking, of all things. Sun Bobs Red Mill g-f all purpose, and sun Earthbalance for butter. It worked great!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    I’m so bad, I totally make it up as I go along. But it’s very close to this one!

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Thank you, this is good to hear. =)

  • Sayward Rebhal

    Ha! Hope that’s okay!

  • Sayward Rebhal


  • Blogitarian

    Thanks for the wonderful review Sayward! I’m so sorry about the non-vegan chick’n, there must have been a mix up in our shipping room!

    Your tempeh salad looks delish – I have an avocado on my counter at home that I now know just what to do with :)

    Lightlife Team Member

  • Jessica

    Lightlife is owned by ConAgra. I don’t trust it anymore!

  • Robert

    The other day I nearly cracked my tooth on a stone embedded in Lightlife’s Three Grain Tempeh. I sat right down and wrote myself a jingle: