With the American-based Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat dominating headlines in 2019, it was easy to forget that the plant-based meat movement has been a global phenomenon. And for every international fast food brand that began with a big U.S. plant-based burger rollout—like Burger King with the Impossible Whopper—there was a company that tried its fortunes outside of the country first—like McDonald's with the P.L.T in Canada.
But Taco Bell has been trying to work a different angle. While some of the chain's biggest competitors like Del Taco have rolled out plant-based meat options, the Bell has eschewed rushing towards meatless meat in the U.S., instead deciding to double-down on its reputation as one of the best fast food chains for vegetarians even without fake beef, keeping the focus on beans and other options already being served. In September, the brand even added a dedicated "Vegetarian Favorites" section nationwide, highlighting their cred as "the only American Vegetarian Association-certified quick service restaurant."
Yet internationally, it's been a different story. As Nation's Restaurant News reports, this week, Taco Bell in Spain added a new permanent menu item called the Oatrageous Taco—a Crunchy Taco that replaces the usual ground beef with a lookalike protein made of pulled oats and legumes that's been seasoned with Taco Bell's usual spices. This oaty taco was tested in Finland first, where it's now also permanently on menus, and will be available across all of Europe this coming summer.
Interestingly, however, despite the Oatrageous Taco's entirely European rollout, Steven Gomez, Taco Bell's director of international product development, still held a launch event at the chain's American headquarters in Irvine, California. Yes, McDonald's has recently made a big deal about showing off some of its international menu items at its headquarters in Chicago, but in general, bragging about new Spanish menu items to the American press isn't common. Instead, it would seem to imply that these tacos might come back home to roost at some point. "While we don't currently have plans to add a meat alternative in the U.S., we never say never and are continuously innovating," a Taco Bell spokesperson told me via email.
As for the faux-meat itself, though NRN didn't provide any opinions on how this new plant-based ground beef tasted, the photos show that it does a decent job of at least looking like Taco Bell beef. But let's be honest, in the pantheon of food items (including, namely, burger patties), replicating the look and texture of Taco Bell ground beef seems like it shouldn't be that tricky. In fact, that's kind of why it's so surprising that Taco Bell hasn't jumped into the plant-based meat game sooner!