Food & Drink Meatless in Steer City

Bad dog - You can bring a tofu dog home, but it won't bark

First of all, why eat a soy knock-off of what is essentially already a knock-off? Do recovering meat addicts crave hot dogs? Maybe. The Hot Dog Council refers to frankfurters, mysteriously, as "specially selected meat trimmings" - and we all know what that means - but each American eats an average of 60 hot dogs a year. San Antonians ate 19 million hot dogs in 2004, ranking it third-highest in the country. That's a lot of puppy-love and sulfites.

If not for nostalgia's sake, one might enjoy a soy hot dog for its nutritional benefits. Soyfurters are low in salt and fat, but like traditional dogs they are high in protein and cook in two minutes; they're easy and kids seem to dig them. Plus, July is National Hot Dog Month and, vegetarian or not, who wants to be left out of the weenie roast? (Not that you can roast tofu dogs; they must be warmed in boiled water.)

We tried three varieties of tofu dogs, Yves' Tofu Dogs and Tofu Pups and Smart Dogs! by Lightlife. In order to experience the true flavor and consistency of each dog, we bravely sampled them unadorned: no bun, no ketchup, no kraut, no mustard.

Meat hot dogs are generally cured and have a smoky flavor, enhanced by a prodigious amount of salt. The closest any of our samples came to that was the Tofu Dog, which is not to say that it was good. It smelled like old boot leather and tasted like a smoked Band-Aid, complete with the rubbery consistency. The nicest thing the Dining Companion could say about it was that it sliced easily.

What has always freaked me out about hot dogs is that, because they are highly emulsified, they don't look like any known meat; nor do tofu dogs look like tofu. The Tofu Pup is orange, reminiscent of a Barbie doll leg or a fake tan. It had only a hint of smoky flavor, not nearly enough salt, and sat on the palate like bean paste, a crumbly grain texture. After one bite, I offered the rest of my sample to Ella the Dog, who nudged it around on the floor for a while before abandoning it in a corner.

Here's what you cannot expect from a tofu dog: plump and juicy. The Smart Dog had the least flavor of all three wieners and was a little dry, but its wheat-gluten consistency made it feel, at least, like real food. Wrapped in a three-seed, multi-grain wheat bun and covered in ketchup and a strong mustard it was edible. "These don't make me want to gag," said the DC, "but they really should not make hot dogs out of tofu."

So true. Chunks of vegetable and marinated firm tofu are great on the grill, of course, and there are some veggie burgers out there that, while they taste nothing like hamburger, are delicious in their own right. But, when it comes to soy franks, best to let sleeping dogs lie; there ain't nothing like the real thing.

By Susan Pagani

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