If you’ve been busy making your way through the rapidly expanding breakfast menu at your favorite fast food restaurant, you might’ve missed the fact that plant-based meats are also slowly taking over the fast food universe. From plant-based burgers to fake chicken chalupas, most fast food joints out there are racing to give classic menu items a plant-based spin. Some of these new innovations are delicious, like Panda Express’ new Plant-based Orange Chicken.
Others, like Little Caesars plant-based pepperoni pizza, need some work.
You may be thinking, “Pizza doesn’t need plant-based meat!” and I’m right there with you. There are plenty of toppings that can make for a great pie, from bell peppers and onions to pineapple, jalapeños, and even just plain cheese. The classic Italian Pizza Margherita is vegetarian, after all.
The problem is, none of those toppings supply very much protein and many pizza eaters are conditioned to favor meat-based umami flavor notes — which is why Little Caesars teamed up with Field Roast to give us the Planteroni Pizza. Available now in stores across Los Angeles, New York City, Miami, San Francisco, Portland, and Detroit, the Planteroni promises the taste of “zesty pepperoni” but is made with pea protein. To see how the new fake meat stacks up, we tested this new product.
Price: $8.49 (regular sized pizza)
Earlier I alluded to the Planteroni having some work to do. But it’s not that I think this pea protein-based pepperoni tastes bad — it doesn’t. But Little Caesar’s Planteroni fails to deliver what makes pepperoni such an addicting topping on pizza: the grease. As you can tell from the photo above, there is something dry and incredibly anemic about this pizza topping, it looks more like a drawing of a pizza than an actual thing you’re supposed to eat.
Pepperoni works as a topping for three reasons:
- It’s got an almost spicy peppery bite to it.
- It features a crispy crunchy edge that toasts up in an oven perfectly.
- It leaks just the right amount of grease onto your pizza to add an extra bit of salty goodness.
The Planteroni has none of these qualities. Does it taste like pepperoni? Sort of. It definitely has a “zesty grab-bag of spices” flavor to it. I can taste some black pepper, paprika, and fennel seed… but the texture is so wrong it’s distracting.
This plant-based pepperoni is also too thick, it doesn’t flip up on the edges in the way that oven-baked pepperoni should. Instead, it just lies there flat like someone scattered some wood chips on a perfectly good cheese pizza. Where regular pepperoni tears so easily in your mouth that you don’t even think about it, you’re going to find yourself chewing this topping so long it’s all you can think about. I’m not sure if that’s because of the pea protein it’s made of, or because it’s just cut way too thick.
My guess is that it’s a little of both and Little Caesar’s probably can’t cut it any thinner, as the pea protein structure will probably just crumble. (Vegan cured meats are tough to create — as we found out earlier this month.) Luckily, if you’re sold on adding plant-based protein to your pizza, I think there is a logical fix for the problems I’ve had with this pizza.
The Bottom Line:
If you’re a pepperoni lover and you’re looking for a plant-based alternative that will keep you away from animal-based products, this just isn’t it. It looks like pepperoni, and kind of tastes like it, but it doesn’t do for a pizza what the mighty pepperoni does.
My advice is to order this not as a single topping on your pizza, but alongside some of your other favorites. Grabbing a pizza with Planteroni, bell peppers, and jalapeños will make for a good and flavorful pie and in that sort of situation, you likely won’t miss the pepperoni. But if you’re grabbing a one-topping Planteroni and hoping to land in the ballpark of a regular pepperoni pizza, you won’t be satisfied.
Find your nearest Little Caesars here.