Fast-food giant Taco Bell is delving deeper into plant-based meat with a new test launch of vegan beef. Starting today, approximately 50 locations in Birmingham, AL will offer the chain’s proprietary “real seasoned plant-based protein” in place of beef across its menu in tacos, burritos, and more. Inspired by Taco Bell’s classic flavors, the vegan beef is made from a proprietary blend of soy and pea proteins. 

To highlight the new option, Taco Bell is featuring the vegan protein atop Nachos BellGrande and is launching a new Crispy Melt Taco. This taco option is priced at $2.49 and can be ordered with either beef or its plant-based protein at no extra cost—which is unique, as many plant-based meat options at fast-food restaurants come at a premium price. 

“Taco Bell worked hard to innovate and develop a plant-based protein that is just as craveable as Taco Bell’s iconic real seasoned beef,” a Taco Bell spokesperson told VegNews. “We believe that fans should never have to compromise taste for their cravings and dietary choices. We pride ourselves on offering food that’s delicious—and accessible—for everyone. That’s why the Crispy Melt Taco will be available for the same price regardless of choice of plant-based protein or beef.”

Taco Bell’s proprietary vegan beef will be available at Birmingham locations from now until mid-October, or while supplies last. Restaurant participation may vary so customers in Birmingham are encouraged to contact their local Taco Bell about the new option.

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Taco Bell’s vegan beef 

While Taco Bell’s customizable menu has been a favorite for vegetarians and vegans for years, the chain has recently begun exploring plant-based meat alternatives. Taco Bell first unveiled its “seasoned plant-based protein” at one location in Tustin, CA last April. There, Taco Bell offered the vegan meat as part of the Cravetarian Taco (a meatless version of its Crunchy Taco Supreme). 

Last fall, Taco Bell expanded the test of its first plant-based beef to 95 Detroit area locations. The new Birmingham test will further inform Taco Bell of the vegan beef’s viability on a larger scale. 

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VegNews was among the first to taste Taco Bell’s vegan beef before its trial during a media event this week. Our editors agree that the plant-based protein is a close replica of the taste and texture of Taco Bell’s animal-derived beef. 

In addition to testing its proprietary vegan beef, Taco Bell has been experimenting with other plant-based meat options, including fun ideas from its test kitchen. In June 2021, Taco Bell toyed around with plant-based chicken at its Irvine, CA test location. Taco Bell’s Test Kitchen developed the Naked Chalupa with a Crispy Plant-Based Shell to mirror the chain’s Naked Chicken Chalupa but instead of using animal meat, the shell was made entirely from vegan chicken which was crafted from a proprietary pea protein-based blend that was breaded and fried. 

Beyond Meat at Taco Bell

While its vegan chicken chalupa shell has not resurfaced since last summer, Taco Bell has been diligently working with vegan brand Beyond Meat since March 2021 on what it says is a “not quite yet seen in the industry” plant-based protein. Last December, rumors began circulating that this option was plant-based carne asada and that Taco Bell was not satisfied with the test. 

However, a Taco Bell spokesperson quickly quashed the rumors. “The test between Taco Bell and Beyond Meat was not canceled,” a Taco Bell spokesperson told VegNews at the time. “Taco Bell and Beyond Meat are actively still working together to create a plant-based protein that’s just as craveable as Taco Bell’s current meat options and completely innovative to the national quick-service restaurant space.”

During this week’s tasting event at Taco Bell’s California headquarters, Missy Schaaphok—Taco Bell Director of Global Nutrition and Sustainability—was on hand to speak about the developments around its work with Beyond Meat. “I’m excited to confirm that Taco Bell’s long-awaited innovation with Beyond Meat will be available before the end of 2022,” Schaaphok told VegNews. “Delicious innovations take time, so I look forward to sharing more soon.” 

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What about vegan cheese for next-level Nachos BellGrande, Mexican Pizza, and Chalupas? Schaaphok explained that the chain is focusing first on testing the performance of its plant-based meats. While vegan cheese is not in Taco Bell’s immediate plan, she said the chain is actively keeping an eye on the dairy-free space. 

In the meantime, Taco Bell is also launching a new, chunky guacamole nationwide made with Hass avocados, fresh tomatoes, and onions, that is a perfect topper for items made with its reinstated seasoned potatoes. 

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