Any time I am offered free products that are even remotely related to hiking and the outdoors, I will jump at the chance to review them. This time it's Primal Strips - Meatless Vegan Jerky. When I was contacted, I quickly perused their website and didn't notice that they were vegetarian until I received the package.
I am not a vegetarian, but I do like Gardenburgers and Veggie Burgers, but don't really crave the Bocca variety. I often order vegetarian patties in restaurants when I crave a burger. I just like the taste of them, and I just don't eat that much beef, except, for some reason, after hiking a long distance. In that case, I tend to yearn for burgers like crazy. Perhaps it is a learned response to the mandatory McDonalds trips after every hike while I was in Boy Scouts.
Regardless, I am always looking for something tasty that I can eat on the trail. My father, who went hiking with me to Monument Peak on a previous hike, was visiting my house when the package arrived, so I told him to try it, just leave me at least one in each flavor, as they had sent me two of each. I blinked and he had inhaled six of the strips, mumbling, "These are pretty good!"
Due to some TMJ (jaw) problems, I had to give up jerky several years ago, since the toughness of gnawing on jerky was putting too much pressure on the jaw joints. I tried the Primal Strips and was pleasantly surprised by the texture. While still being slightly stringy, and I mean that in the best light possible, it did not have the leather-chewing component of traditional jerky.
They are made with all natural ingredients; mostly soy, seitan, and mushrooms. These ingredients provide the soft and slightly stringy texture, and, what some people might not like, the lingering aftertaste. I thought the aftertaste went very well with the flavors that I liked, but either competed with the flavors I didn't or were drowned by the sauce.
They are vacuum wrapped in individual packets, which can be hard to open. They are serrated at the top, but sometimes the tear doesn't make it low enough to get the strip out. Also, the strip usually breaks in half from the top, so it requires a little digging to get the bottom half out of the packet, covering your finger in sauce.
The texture changed from strip to strip. I don't know if it is a natural variation in the ingredients, different sauce effects, or simply poor QC. It wasn't undesirable, but a little surprising.
Flavors I liked:
Hickory Smoked: Moderately sweet with a slight peppery kick. My favorite of the group.
Texas BBQ: This one is less sweet and peppery than Hickory Smoked. It's a good balance of salty with a hint of BBQ sweetness and works well with the underlying soy flavor.
Hot & Spicy: This wasn't bad at all. Not outrageously spicy, but the kick builds up a slow curve to a moderate warmth in the rear of the mouth. This texture was completely different than the rest. Where the others were lightly colored with sauce covering the strip, this one felt firmer and less stringy than the others. I don't know whether it's the inclusion of shiitake mushrooms in this one or QC issues, but it took me by surprise, although not unpleasant. My first impression was an overwhelming licorice element that transitioned into a nice level of spiciness.
Flavors I didn't like:
Mesquite Lime: This one felt dryer and pretty bland. There was a slight lime taste and then not much else.
Teriyaki: Using this flavoring for anything other than good chicken or beef tends to miss the mark, in my opinion and this is not really that different. But it wasn't as overpowering as other vendors tend to make their teriyaki-flavored products. This one was slightly better than the Mesquite Lime, but not my favorite.
Thai Peanut: Similar to Teriyaki, this flavor tends to be overdone and, for me, only really works with the real thing, not as an additive flavor. I couldn't swallow this one; I just didn't like it.
-Packed with protein
-Certain flavors are pretty tasty
-Not as hard to chew as traditional jerky
-Hard to open
-Inconsistent quality of texture and flavor from strip to strip.
-Some flavors miss the mark
Bottom line: Being a vegetarian used to mean sacrificing quite a bit. Things have changed, though, and there are many options out there. The BBQ-based flavors really gel well with the underlying soy flavor that lingers after every bite. Some people may find this off-putting, but the more artificial flavors (Mesquite Lime, Teriyaki, and Thai Peanut) just didn't mingle with the soy flavor very well or tended to mask it with overpowering sauce. Everyone has their own sense of taste and since I eat a lot of Asian food, perhaps I can't stomach flavors that pretend to be the real thing.
I would definitely buy the flavors that I liked, but would not take them hiking or camping. They are too messy, as the sauce tends to get all over your fingers and the scent permeates through the vacuum-sealed packets. But they are tasty and would work well from some quick energy in a pinch or in a bag lunch.