We taste-tested a Thanksgiving dinner of the future:
Thanksgiving is a holiday steeped in tradition and nostalgia. That’s why the menu is basically unchanged since Norman Rockwell painted it – weird 1950s foods like candied yams (literally wut) and canned cranberry sauce (oooh canning! What an impressive showing of our post–World War II bounty).
But it’s the 21st century, and our Thanksgiving dinner should catch up to our modern ideas about nutrition and sustainable agriculture. That’s why we made an entire Thanksgiving meal with “future foods” — you know, food tech — swapped in for normal ingredients. This means either something that’s a futuristic substance (Soylent, TruBrain), a normal-ish food but made by companies that operate like tech startups with venture capital funding (Hungry Root), food made by startups with sustainability in mind (Just Mayo, Beyond Meat), or just plain sustainable alternative proteins (crickets).
Some of it was fairly decent, some of it was actively disgusting. Regardless, the future of Thanksgiving is here, and it’s Soylent gravy. So sit down, unbuckle your belt, and dig in.
Creamy Garlic Chive Mashed Potatoes With Just Mayo
This was basically regular old mashed potatoes with milk and butter, but with the addition of garlic Just Mayo. I had high hopes for this dish, since it promised to be most like the original version of the meal.
The Result: The recipe called for just 2¼ pounds of potatoes, which turned out to be just three big potatoes. That didn’t seem like enough, so I added in more potatoes and attempted to adjust the butter/milk/mayo to match. However, I kinda eyeballed this process, and the proportions were probably a little off. They were a little dry, and the consistency was not as fluffy as I’d like. It’s hard to say if this was because of the Just Mayo or just my own potato-head.
TruBrain Cranberry Sauce
Many cranberry sauce recipes call for orange juice, so I substituted in a citrusy-tasting drink called TruBrain. You just boil up cranberries, sugar, and the juice for about 15 minutes — pretty simple. TruBrain is basically like 5-Hour Energy drink, but its hook is that it’s made by scientists especially formulated for your brain with a bunch of natural stuff (not just caffeine). TruBrain’s site says, “UCLA trained neuroscientists set out to solve the problem that energy drinks do not —genuine focus.”
The Result: It was good! This tasted exactly like regular cranberry sauce. TruBrain is kind of tart and slightly fruity — it tastes pretty good by itself — so it was a perfect substitution for orange juice. I would actually highly recommend this for a normal Thanksgiving. Caffeinated cranberry sauce is the genius antidote for the tryptophan of the turkey.
Hungry Root Sweet Potato Noodles
The idea here was to replace the classic candied yams Thanksgiving side. Hungry Root is a venture capital–backed startup that delivers individually packaged meals, mostly of spiralized vegetable noodles. I used the sweet potato noodles, since sweet potatoes are basically yams, right?
It was was by far the easiest item, because it was completely ready-made and packaged. I just heated up three packages per the directions on the back, and voila.
The Result: This dish was particularly disliked by my guests. Admittedly, I think I undercooked them, but also guests didn’t understand that these were spiralized vegetables and were expecting real pasta noodles. They were unpleasantly surprised. “An abomination to noodles,” is what our style editor Julie Gerstein called them.
Stuffing With Hungry Root Risotto and Crickets
This was basically the Betty Crocker bread stuffing recipe, with two major additions: dried crickets for crunch and Hungry Root’s Root Risotto, which is a mix of chopped carrot, celery root, rutabaga, and sweet potato and includes their own thyme apple butter. The dried crickets came packaged with light Italian seasoning from Big Cricket Farms — you could mistake the dried ones for some sort of nuts or weirdly seasoned wasabi peas.
The Result: If it wasn’t for the crickets (which aren’t AS bad as I expected), this would actually be some of the best stuffing I’ve ever had. I fully attribute this to the addition of the Root Risotto and the thyme apple butter, which gave the stuffing a sweetness and depth of flavor that was more than just bread with onions.
Beyond Meat "Turkey"
Thanksgiving has long been a battleground for vegetarians and their older relatives who are vexed by the refusal to consume dead turkey flesh. Tofurky has been around for almost 30 years, long enough to look hilariously outdated in its packaging. It’s old news. Beyond Meat is the hottest tech startup in fake meat, with Twitter co-founder Biz Stone and Silicon Valley venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins as investors, and the former McDonald’s CEO on its board. Beyond Meat’s appeal (other than that you can abbreviate it BM) is that its texture is supposedly more like real chicken than any other competitors, thanks to its specially developed cooking process. But Beyond Meat is sold in chicken strip pieces, which don’t really have the festive holiday appeal I was looking for.
Enter the turkey cake pan.
I ground up four packages of Beyond Meat grilled chicken strips in a food processor, mixed them with some eggs and breadcrumbs, and tossed it into the turkey pan to bake, like a giant fake turkey meatball.
The Result: Most importantly, I was very excited about how it came out looking PERFECTLY like a turkey, thanks to the pan.
However, the unanimous opinion across all taste testers was that it was incredibly bland. Basically it just tastes like plain fake meat. A healthy dose of gravy helped, but the whole thing probably would’ve been better if the mixture had been seasoned more – perhaps mixing in more spices or chopped onions. If you’re looking for a vegetarian turkey alternative, I think you could really make this dish work (I’m sure you could also take out the eggs for a vegan version).
What’s Thanksgiving without gravy? This was made from a mix of Soylent, chicken broth (I suppose you could swap in vegetable broth for a vegetarian version), butter, and flour to thicken the sauce up. Basically, you’re creating a thicker, gooier, chicken flavored Soylent. Mmm mmm...
The Result: Weirdly, not totally terrible. The color was paler than traditional turkey gravy, more like the lighter gravy you’d see on biscuits and gravy.
Cricket and Pecan Pie With Cricket Flour Crust
The idea here was to replace half the pecans with crickets, figuring it might sort of hide the bugs and make it look like regular pecan pie. Additionally, I made a crust with cricket flour, which you can buy on Amazon and is a mix of real flour and crickets. You use it cup for cup with regular flour when baking.
For the crust, I used this Food.com recipe, which was pretty straightforward. I just substituted the cricket flour for regular flour.
For the pie filling, I used BuzzFeed’s recommendation for a whiskey pecan pie recipe from Crunkcakes. However, instead of using 2 cups of pecans, I used 1 cup of pecans and 1 cup of crickets. I also used Jack Daniels instead of the recommended Jim Beam, but eh. Tennessee whiskey.
The crickets arrived from Big Cricket Farms frozen in a bag. To unfreeze them, you dump them into a pot of boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes and then drain with a strainer, like a disgusting buggy pasta. The water turns brown and stinks of bugs. It was fairly horrifying. I’m pretty squwicked out by bugs, and as I stared at the strainer full of cooling insects I was almost sure that I was going to see them come back to life and start moving.
The Result: This was probably the most disgusting of all the foods. The crickets were surprisingly well hidden on first glance at the pie, but as soon as you looked at the slice on your plate, you could clearly see gross little bugs sticking out. To be fair, I don’t think you could taste them, per se, but a cricket je ne sais quoi was there. The cricket flour crust didn’t help either — it has a more savory flavor than a pie crust should, more like a cracker than a pie crust.
Soylent Pumpkin Pie With Cricket Flour Crust
To fit the theme of “future foods,” I chose the can of pumpkin with the spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves) already mixed in. It felt a little like cheating, but what is the future if not more convenient? I followed the recipe on the back of the can (duh, the back of the can recipe is always best), which calls for just salt, eggs, and a can of evaporated milk.
Except instead of evaporated milk, I substituted 12 ounces of Soylent 2.0.
Soylent, of course, is the most ideal of any future food. It’s developed to be a complete food replacement: You can go 30 days without having to worry about the annoyance of deciding Ugh, what to eat? and just get fueled by pure ’net juice and still get all your nutrients. This summer, Soylent released its version 2.0 product, which came in bottles (previously you had to mix your own drinks from powder), boasted a better taste, and crucially claimed to have solved the pesky flatulence problem of version 1.0.
To round out the pie, I also used the cricket flour crust (same as pecan recipe).
The Results: It was basically just like bad pumpkin pie. Not inedible, just...not good. Like the pecan pie, the savoriness of the cricket flour crust threw off the balance of the dish. To compound the issue, the filling was sweeter than normal. Soylent 2.0 tastes basically like a vanilla protein shake, which of course is sweeter than the plain evaporated milk it was substituting. So you had a very sweet filling and savory crust, but not in a way that worked.
How could you NOT mix these with booze? The Trutini is equal parts TruBrain and vodka, shaken with ice and served in a martini glass.
The Result: When I spoke with Chris Thompson from TruBrain about this project, I asked him if people ever made cocktails with the drink. He said that they definitely did but warned that TruBrain enhances the effects of alcohol, so be careful.
Chris was NOT lying. These things will FUCK YOU UP and leave you with a crazy headache you’ve never experienced before. They’re surprisingly delicious, so we all sucked them down pretty happily, and no one felt good the next day.