Layers of flaky, golden pastry, wrapped around a hot, meaty centre. Few things compare to biting into a Greggs sausage roll — no wonder the UK’s biggest bakery chain sells 1.5 million of them every week.
And no wonder that when Greggs launched a vegan version, there was quite a stir. Why meddle with perfection, meat-eating fans lamented.
Made from faux ‘meat’ encased in dairy-free pastry, it costs £1 (5p more than a traditional sausage roll) and was launched in response to a 20,000-strong petition by animal welfare group Peta.
With the help of sausage manufacturers and vegan nutritionists, Sarah Rainey set out to uncover what is in a Greggs vegan ‘sausage’ roll
With 3.5 million vegans in this country, and record numbers signing up to ‘Veganuary’, a movement that encourages people to start the New Year by eating a plant-based diet, it’s certainly timely.
Bakeries up and down the country have reported queues and customers camping overnight in the hope of getting their hands on one. Two-day-old rolls have even popped up on eBay for £12.50.
And Greggs is reaping the rewards of jumping on the vegan bandwagon, this week raising its 2019 profit forecast to £88 million.
Indeed, at my local branch in South-East London, where 180 vegan sausage rolls go on sale at 6am every day, they’re sold out by 9am. I manage to nab the last one.
Eating it is no problem — in fact, I’d struggle to tell it apart from the meat version — but finding out what’s in it proves a challenge.
Like the mystique that’s surrounded the ’11 secret herbs and spices’ in KFC’s chicken for more than 50 years, Greggs is closely guarding the recipe. The ingredients aren’t listed anywhere on its website — and when I contact the company for details, a spokeswoman tells me: ‘I’m afraid we can’t share any further information on ingredients or processes.’
So, with the help of sausage manufacturers and vegan nutritionists, I set out to uncover the truth… what is in a Greggs vegan ‘sausage’ roll?
Made from faux ‘meat’ encased in dairy-free pastry, the new vegan ‘sausage’ roll costs £1 and was launched in response to a 20,000-strong petition by animal welfare group Peta
FILLING OF FUNGUS
The filling starts life as a mouldy fungus. Fusarium venenatum was discovered in fields near Marlow, Buckinghamshire, in 1967, as part of a scientific study to find alternative protein sources for food.
From the same group of fungi as truffles and morels, it’s made up of a web of finely spun strands.
Today, it’s still extracted from soil, where it occurs naturally, but is grown in commercial plots.
After much experimenting, the fungus finally made it to market in 1985 as the filling for a vegetable pie, under the brand name Quorn.
Before it’s safe to eat, it is fermented in vats to make a product called ‘mycoprotein’. After five weeks, the mixture is stirred, so denser fungus sinks to the bottom, where it’s heated to 64c, filtered off and dried.
STARCH TO BIND IT
The mycoprotein resembles breadcrumbs so a binding agent is required to help it resemble something more ‘meaty’.
In most Quorn products, egg white is used, but in its vegan range (launched in 2011), potato starch — from the root of the potato plant — is added instead.
Not only does this bind the mycoprotein granules together, but it acts as a thickening and moistening agent, giving it the consistency of wet dough.
FROZEN FOR TEXTURE
Vegans’ biggest complaint about meat substitutes is their consistency. Many are crumbly and fail to live up to the texture of a tender chicken breast or medium-rare steak. ‘Mock meats are a great way to cut down meat intake,’ says Rose Glover, a nutritionist specialising in plant-based food. ‘However some people still crave the taste and textures of meat.’
Mycoprotein is praised for its authentic ‘meaty’ consistency.
This is achieved in a three-stage process: steam cooking it for 30 minutes, chilling and shaping it (to look like a burger patty or a meatball, for example) and then freezing it — a crucial part of the process as the ice crystals push fibres together, creating bundles that give it its meat-like texture.
What’s left is a substance that looks and feels like the real deal.
PALM OIL PROBLEM
Greggs says the vegan sausage roll contains the same ‘unique seasoning’ as its regular version. Given that was recently found to contain just 18 per cent pork, the herbs and spices are pretty significant.
Debbie Keeble, co-founder of North Yorkshire-based sausage company Heck, tasted the vegan roll and analysed it for flavour. ‘It has quite a sour taste,’ she says. ‘There’s a slight chemically flavour.
‘I think they use garlic powder, onion powder, sage, parsley, salt, white and black pepper — and yeast, which gives it that savoury, cheesy nuttiness.
‘The texture is a little pappy and soft, as the sausage doesn’t have a skin to hold it all together.’
The filling starts life as a mouldy fungus, extracted from soil and grown in commercial plots
So what does Greggs say? After a protracted email exchange, the bakery chain finally discloses more details on its ‘bespoke recipe’ — which includes wheat flour, thickener, dehydrated onion, pea fibre, rubbed sage, rubbed thyme, rape-seed oil and potato protein.
There’s also one contentious ingredient — palm oil — which may explain its reluctance to share. Palm oil has been linked to deforestation, animal cruelty and indigenous rights abuses in countries where it’s produced, with many customers boycotting retailers using it.
96 FLAKEY LAYERS
Greggs says its vegan sausage roll is encased in 96 layers of flaky puff pastry, made the same way as the traditional version. We know it contains vegetable oil, not butter — but there are no details on how the pastry is made.
More information can be found in a response sent to a customer in 2013, after she asked for an ingredients breakdown for its vegetable bake. A spokeswoman said Greggs’ pastry was made from wheat flour, vegetable margarine and shortening (solidified fats), water and salt.
Layers are created by a process known as ‘lamination’, which involves folding sheets of pastry and fat over one another.
Finished products are frozen at Greggs’ Newcastle HQ before being shipped to 950 of its 1,950 branches and baked (for 25 minutes at 220C) on the day of sale.
A BIGGER BITE
The vegan sausage rolls are longer — six millimetres — than their pork equivalent. Greggs says this means they equate to ten ‘mega-bites’. On my taste-test it was more like seven.
SWEET AND SALTY
So is the vegan version healthier than plumping for pork? It contains marginally fewer calories — 311 compared to 327 —less fat (19g versus 22g) and more protein (12g versus 9.4g).
However that’s still more calories than a McDonalds cheeseburger, which contains 301.
The new vegan sausage roll (left) also contains more calories than a McDonalds cheeseburger
Studies have also shown mycoprotein helps regulate blood sugar levels and can make us feel fuller for longer.
There is, however, more salt in the vegan roll (1.9g compared to 1.6g) and it contains nearly a gram of sugar per serving, while the original has none.
IS IT ‘GREEN’?
there’s no doubt swapping your lunchtime sausage roll for a vegan alternative has a positive impact on the environment.
As well as preserving the pig population (animal cruelty is the main reason many adopt veganism), fake meat has a smaller carbon footprint and needs less land and water than rearing livestock.
The carbon footprint — the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere — of mycoprotein is ten times lower than that of beef, while its water footprint is on average 20 times lower.
According to the Food Standards Agency, one in every 100,000 people may be allergic to mycoprotein — another reason Greggs is being urged to publish its ingredients list.
Dominika Piasecka of The Vegan Society says ‘the vast majority’ of vegans don’t have a problem with the product, unlike soya or gluten, but Rose Glover says ‘many find it hard to digest’.
‘In sensitive individuals it can cause nausea, bloating, diarrhoea and, in rare cases, a severe allergic reaction,’ she adds.
Other symptoms include vomiting, hives and potentially fatal anaphylactic reactions.