At its core, jerky is something that has been sliced into strips and dried for the sake of preservation. In our carnivore-centric world, that traditionally means meat-cattle to be specific, though gators, bison, and elk have all received the jerky treatment. Beef jerky was a favorite of cowboys, as it was easy to pack and could last for days in the field and long trips into the canyon. And it is, at least to this writer, the greatest snack (meal?) ever created.
It's only natural, then, that I can't help but be skeptical whenever a new product pops up labeling itself as "jerky" in the hopes of landing on the jerky rack at our favorite gas stations and grocers. Such was the case with Pan's Mushroom Jerky, the latest of these products I've come across. But just because I was skeptical didn't mean I wasn't intrigued enough to try.
Pan's touts itself as a gluten-free, high-fiber, vitamin-rich jerky made from shiitake mushrooms. "No meat, no soy, just 'shrooms," reads the packaging. (I'm assuming there is no psilocybin in these mushrooms, but that market could be opening sooner than we think.) The jerky recipe is alleged to be decades old. As the story goes, founder Michael Pan tried it while visiting relatives in Malaysia and couldn't believe he was eating mushrooms, not meat. "I knew my family had something special that had to be shared with the rest of the world," said Pan.
Anyone who's ever had a properly cooked shiitake mushroom-or seen the Jeong Kwan episode of Chef's Table-knows how tasty and even meat-like it can be, both in juiciness and flavor. But jerky?
One bite in and you understand what Pan must have felt when he tried his family's recipe for the first time. It's good, though in that way where you know it's not totally the thing your brain thinks it's supposed to be (like a meaty uncanny valley), but you don't care because it's so damn tasty.
I found myself eating it by the handful. And unlike similar products that bathe their offerings in salt and artificial flavoring to cover what's missing, there's nothing overpowering here. The Sea Salt & Pepper bag is superior, though other options like Applewood BBQ and Zesty Thai hold their own once you get used to the texture. Yeah, about that texture. It's a little more rubbery than what you might be used to, yet less rubbery than half of the garbage on the market that calls itself beef jerky-looking at you, Jack Link's. And yes, I'd take this over that any day.
More and more people are starting to realize that humanity's meat consumption has been not so great for the planet. It's not necessarily that we eat meat, but the way we farm it, consume it, and waste it continues to suck. I have to give credit to anyone making an effort to break the spell, especially when they nail it.
So similar to when Impossible Foods made a meatless White Castle slider better than White Castle's actual meat slider, Pan's Mushroom Jerky beats the hell out of that rubbery, maroon-colored factory jerky you've been bringing on road trips. Is it meat? It is not. But it is good, and you should give it a try. I think you'll be glad you did.