In many ways, Taco Bell would seem like one of the most likely fast food chains to embrace plant-based meat. For years, the brand has bragged about its vegetarian credentials, pointing out that their beans have long provided a non-meat protein. And as far as its actual meat, their more indiscriminate ground beef, at the very least, seems like it should be easier to replicate than, say, a steak.
And yet, Taco Bell has had an unusual relationship with the trendy alternative. In 2019, the company said they were happy with their status as “the only American Vegetarian Association-certified” fast food chain and wouldn’t kowtow to the new plant-based trend. But by 2020, the kowtowing had begun. And in April of last year, the chain tested a new plant-based ground beef substitute in a new menu item dubbed the Cravetarian Taco at a single California location. That was followed by an even odder product in June, also at a single California location: a Naked Chalupa with a Crispy Plant-Based Shell, the shell essentially being a fried chicken substitute.
Confusing things even further, though both those items were developed in-house, last year, Taco Bell announced they were working with Beyond Meat on a yet-to-be-announced “new innovative plant-based protein” for 2022.
Well, here we are, in August 2022, and Taco Bell is still progressing with its plant-based plans: Today, the chain announced they were once again testing an in-house plant-based protein — an improved version of the Cravetarian fake meat from last year — this time only in Birmingham, Alabama area. And once again confusing things even further, the brand is still promising that Beyond Meat partnership, which is still slate to arrive before the end of the year.
But let’s stick with what we do have: For a limited time only, Birmingham Taco Bells will offer a new Crispy Melt Taco, along with Nachos BellGrande, both of which utilize the improved certified-vegan ground beef substitute that Taco Bell says is now made from a soy and pea-based blend (as opposed to its previous pea and chickpea blend) using a seasoning “inspired by classic Taco Bell flavors.”
The Crispy Melt Taco is, itself, a new menu item: described as “a freshly fried daily white corn shell tortilla with layers on layers of an indulgent, melty blend of shredded cheddar, mozzarella, and Monterey pepper jack cheeses, plus warm nacho cheese sauce” which is then “topped with crispy lettuce, even more cheddar cheese, juicy diced tomatoes and reduced-fat sour cream.”
And if you like the sound of the taco, but not plant-based protein, not to worry: The Crispy Melt Taco can be ordered with regular beef as well. Either way, it costs $2.49.
Plus, speaking of protein substitutes, Taco Bell says that, while the new plant-based protein is available, customers can swap it into any menu item at no additional charge — which sounds like it might be worth it so you can see what it tastes like without five layers of cheese.
Taco Bell says participation at locations in the Birmingham area may vary, so if you must try this new fake meat, you may want to reach out to your local restaurant beforehand.
Source: Food and Wine