Faux Gras: Surprise on a Cracker

Regal Vegan Faux Gras

Regal Vegan Faux Gras

I Paid: $5 for an 8-ounce tub (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 5 stars

Marketing: 5 stars

The pitch of Faux Gras was instantly appealing: a vegan pâté grabbing the consumer's attention by referencing foie gras. On the product's website, the maker, Regal Vegan, writes: "Not meant to replace goose or duck liver, which is undoubtedly one of the cruelest foods[*] on the market today, Faux Gras™ is meant to give people with a sophisticated palate a treat that isn't harmful."

So, it's a bit of a "have your vegan cake and eat it too" prospect: Faux Gras is not meant to replace foie gras, but it is meant to be a rich and sophisticated vegan pâté. Based on the product's name and my own curiosity, I tasted Faux Gras side by side with its un-PC, animal-derived competitor. And thus: a surprise.

I love foie gras, and I love Faux Gras, too. Spread on crackers or toasts, Faux Gras makes a marvelous appetizer. And while it lacks some of the silky texture, sweetness, and swoon-inducing richness of foie gras, it makes up for those differences by possessing a charm all its own: It's nutty, slightly funky, and complex, with a smooth spreadability and density that make it a substantial premeal snack. The ingredients of Faux Gras reveal some of its tricks: Its base is toasted walnuts and lentils, enhanced by caramelized onions, miso paste, tamari, and ume plum vinegar. The fermented and/or tart supporting players help give the spread some real intensity and subtle layers of flavor.

So while Faux Gras won't render foie gras unnecessary from a purely gastronomic perspective, it is likely to be recognized for being delicious, regardless of one's dietary preferences. And at 60 calories (and no cholesterol!) for two tablespoons, it's a hell of a healthier alternative to its meat-made cousin (roughly 120 calories and anywhere from 40 to 100 milligrams of cholesterol).

*I would side with Michael Pollan and object to the idea that farm-raised foie gras is necessarily more cruel than large-scale industrial chicken farming, but making the case either way is an ethically complicated prospect.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow CHOW on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.