Tofu-turkey arrives on the Thanksgiving dinner table

M By Dan Solomon

move over Thanksgiving turkey. There’s a new bird in town. Well, maybe not a new bird, rather a fresh spin on the traditional Thanksgiving centerpiece.

It’s tofu, an option vegetarians and health nuts alike are turning to for their holiday meals. Appropriately-named brands such as “Tofurky” and “The Great Unturkey Feast” have been on the market since 1995, selling tofu-turkey meals to customers looking for an alternative to holiday meats.

And some University students are among those choosing the product for their festivities this year.

Gregory Oschwald, a graduate student and member of the Student Organization for Animal Rights, said his family will be eating tofu-turkey at Thanksgiving for reasons beyond taste.

“It’s a compassionate alternative to meat for Thanksgiving,” said Oschwald, whose family usually prepares a strict vegan meal for the holiday.

Freshman Gilbert Schwartz said his family prepares two turkeys for their Thanksgiving table, to keep both vegetarians and meat-eaters happy.

“My family gets a turkey and also an alternative like tofu turkey (for me),” he said.

Besides the obvious lack of meat in tofu-turkeys, there are distinct differences between the product and a regular turkey. Tofu-turkeys are geared toward a smaller Thanksgiving crowd, typically sold as a three or seven pound item and are available at specialty stores or major grocery retailers. Most meal kits include tofu gravy, stuffing and an imitation wishbone.

Compared to a regular turkey, tofu items are generally more expensive. A seven-pound “Unturkey Feast” costs around $30, or $4.28 per pound, while a 10 to 12 pound regular turkey costs around $13.50, for a cost per pound of approximately $1.50.

As for the nutritional aspects, each varies in level: cholesterol (turkey has 70 mg; tofu, zero); saturated fat (turkey has 2 grams; tofu, zero); and sodium (turkey 140 mg; tofu 310 mg). Both have the same amount of iron and protein, and neither contains sugar.

Mindy Kurzer, a professor in the University’s Department of Food Science and Nutrition, said dietary recommendations made in recent years, including increasing intake of plant foods, have caused the public to become more aware of what they eat.

“I would guess if there’s a market for (tofu-turkey) it must be good. A lot of mock products are very good,” she said. “People are extremely interested in nutrition and improving their health – nutrition is one of the ways people can do that.”

A three-pound “Tofurky” feast is ready to eat in 45 minutes, while the average regular turkey needs to roast for up to four hours.

But does it really taste the same?

“It looks and tastes like meat,” Schwartz said. “It even comes with a wishbone.”