Vegan Week is drawing to a close here at Gizmodo UK, and we still have plenty of new vegan junk food to get through. Now up until this point we've focused on fast food, but we're mixing that up just this once. Why? Because we couldn't resist a proper sit-down meal at Pizza Hut to try their new vegan 'Pepperphoni' - a dish that you can't get from the Pizza Hut delivery shops that are scattered about towns and cities. Not wanting to pay for Uber Eats or Deliveroo, or have to lug it home while it got cold, I went in and made an evening of it.
The Pepperphoni itself is totally vegan, meaning it comes with a plant-only pepperoni substitute and helping of Violife's vegan cheese. The pepperoni slices don't seem to have come from an outside company, like Quorn or Beyond, since Pizza Hut just says it's made from pea protein. There's also no ingredients list online, so there's no way to know for sure exactly what's in them. The rest is basic pizza dough and tomato, though, which isn't too mysterious.
I will say this about the Pepperphoni: it tastes a lot better than it smells. Because, you know, vegan cheese really does not smell good. But it didn't end up tasting so bad, which makes it a bit like the durian fruit that's banned from public transport systems across Asia. That said, it didn't taste anything like actual cheese, so there's clearly a lot of work to be done on making it a proper substitute. In fact you can barely taste it at all when the time comes to throw a slice into your mouth, because the whole thing is dominated by the tomatoes and the fake pepperoni. Maybe it's something to do with the baking process that tones down the fake cheese smell, or maybe it just naturally submits to the dominance of tomato sauce. Who knows.
The fake pepperoni slices were surprisingly good, and to be honest you could probably hand them over to someone and not have them be able to tell the difference. You can get the pizza with regular mozzarella, the type that doesn't smell like a buffalo's arse, making it suitable for vegetarians that aren't quite ready to commit to a life of fake cheese. It also means you can give it to your angry meat-eater friends and they wouldn't be any the wiser that the pepperoni isn't real. It's got the right texture of baked pepperoni slices, and it has that peppery taste the stuff is known for. I didn't have any regular pepperoni to compare it to at the time, though unless you have them side by side nobody is going to notice a damn thing.
The good thing about the pepperphoni is that this isn't Pizza Hut's first foray into the world of veganing the place out. They have an entire vegan menu with various different kinds of pizzas to choose from, all of which come with the same fake vegan cheese. But none of them have fake meat on them, which is why the pepperphoni stands out. That being said, there are vegan sides and desserts, many of which are part of the Hut's meal deal. So being the frugal spender that I am, I got the Pepperphoni with a side of southern fried nuggets - which I couldn't seem to stop referring to as 'chicken nuggets', much to the confusion of the waiter.
Those were made out of quorn, and tasted fine, but unlike the Pepperphoni there was no mistaking them for the real thing. They looked a bit chicken-y when you bit into them, but they didn't taste like it and they certainly didn't have the same texture as a real chicken nugget. But they were alright, even if they were made of mystery filling that I didn't recognise at the time.
That's definitely not chicken. It tasted fine though
The main thing about to understand about the Pepperphoni is that you're buying a meal that's traditionally very cheesy with a substitute that is nowhere near up to scratch. Fair play to Violife, its vegan cheese doesn't taste like ass, but the taste it does have doesn't really come out in the same way that mozzarella would do. Nor do you get the stretchiness and texture you'd associate with the real thing. Honestly, if it weren't for the smell, I wouldn't be very sure that the cheese was there at all. Which isn't great because, as I said, pizza is a very cheese-centric food.
It's good start, though. Like most vegan fast food, it isn't going to convert any meat people anytime soon, though it might just sway a few vegetarians who are on the fence. Obviously the Violife cheese isn't going to replace real cheese in any meaningful way in its current form. Not on pizza, and not if the smell is consistent across all its products. But hey, it gives vegans some extra junk to eat so they can be as unhealthy as the rest of us. Not that veganism is actually that much healthier than a meat-centric diet in the first place.
Sadly the downside is that the Pepperphoni is only available until the end of today, because it was never a permanent edition to the Pizza Hut menu. But, then again, if it's been popular enough the chain might bring it back for good. And it should, because cheese smell aside it was actually really good.