Review: Plant-based KD

Can AI engineer a game-changing mac & cheese?

Kraft Plantbased KD Original

Like many Canadians my age, I grew up eating Kraft Dinner. Cheesy, salty, unnaturally orange – this was a childhood comfort food staple. And, understandably, I was very excited when I heard Kraft, in partnership with NotCo, had released vegan versions of both original and white cheddar Kraft Dinner.

White Cheddar(left) and
Original Plantbased Kraft Dinner

After trying a couple of different stores, I was able to secure my boxes at the Walmart in Deerfoot City. At 2.67 per box, the price was reasonable, particularly for a vegan product.

Kraft/Not Co’s Plantbased KD is made using Not Co’s AI Giuseppe – designed to analyze animal based foods, and determine which plant-based foods will produce a similar taste and texture.

Kraft Plantbased KD Original

First, I want to point out where I think this pasta really wins – the texture and consistency. The pasta isn’t gluten-free, a nice change of pace since so often vegan and gluten-free are lumped together. Preparation is exactly the same as a conventional box of KD, and as I stirred in the margarine and soy milk, I wasn’t expecting the powdered cheese to mix as well as it did, but it came together very smoothly. It looks incredible – not lumpy or sticky – exactly like conventional Kraft Dinner. But the taste? Sorry Giuseppe, but you really missed the mark there.

It’s incredibly sweet – and considering a box contains almost half of your daily RDA of sodium, it really surprised me how sweet it was. I didn’t see nutritional yeast listed as an ingredient – I think the yeast extract is likely another form of MSG. Not sure which flavour they needed to enhance here, but nooch would have been preferable to whatever this is.

KD Plantbased White Cheddar

Disappointed, but not to be deterred, I prepared the white cheddar version the following day with an open mind. The shells cooked well and had a pleasant texture, and the sauce was smooth and creamy. But the flavour, although slightly more subdued than the original cheddar, still had that awful, overwhelming sweet flavour.

The first couple of bites are tolerable, but it becomes increasingly inedible as you continue. Even ketchup, a classic Kraft Dinner addition, couldn’t save it. I’m guessing the culprit is the “sugars”, listed suspiciously high in the ingredients.

So can AI engineer a game-changing mac & cheese? I don’t think so, not on it’s own. While Giuseppe may be able to analyze the molecular structure of ingredients, it doesn’t have the ability to taste them. Which is why the end result is kind of like that episode of Futurama when Bender, the robot, decides he wants to become a chef – looks great, tastes…gross.

I’m not sure where the humans were in this instance, but Kraft/Not Co’s Plantbased KD would have benefitted from further human intervention before hitting the market. Some slight adjustments to the ingredients would make a world of difference but as it exists, I will not be re-purchasing.

Final Scores:
Plantbased Original: 2/10
Plantbased White Cheddar: 2/10

Have you tried the new Kraft/NotCo Plantbased KD? What are your thoughts on AI being used to develop vegan products? Let me know down in the comments below.

Kraft Plantbased KD White Cheddar

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