How Subway’s 3 New Vegan Subs Stack Up

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Subway's new vegan subs

Finally, a mainstream restaurant chain has taken a step toward embracing the dietary choices of vegetarians and vegans.

And, lucky us, it’s not just any old restaurant chain — it’s the world’s largest.

After a lengthy campaign from the good folks over at Compassion Over Killing, Subway announced last week that eight of their Washington, DC area restaurants would be testing out three new subs.

The Malibu Greek, the Italian Black Bean, and the Sweet Riblet are their names, and these new subs aren’t just vegetarian — they’re 100% vegan.

Why this matters

It happens to us all.

Even the most prepared of vegetarians will find themselves five hours into a long car ride, or sitting in the airport looking for something to eat besides a wilted salad and a roll. Most of us prepare by bringing snacks, homemade sandwiches, or following tips for traveling as a vegan, but sometimes the only option is to grab something on the road.

Finally, there’s a glimmer of hope from a major chain. That’s why Subway’s test, of just three subs in just eight locations in just one city, matters.

Subway is the world’s largest restaurant chain, with over 25,000 restaurants in the United States alone. In overall revenue, Subway places second, behind only McDonald’s, among fast food chains.

To put into perspective what having these options in a restaurant chain this large would mean for vegan eaters, let’s look at what the current options are. Here is the breakdown of available main menu items in the top three fast food chains.

McDonald’s: Side Salad (hold the cheese). Yup, that’s it folks.

Subway (in all but the test locations): Veggie Delight on select vegan breads. This is a sub that consists of only veggies.

Burger King: Side Salad (hold the cheese) and french fries.

Many health-conscious vegans will thumb their noses at sub made with a processed vegan patty. I’ll be the first to say that I don’t typically eat this way. But we’re talking about fast food, convenient food, the kind of food you eat when you have no another choice. Or, every so often, when you just want something that tastes like fast food did back when you used to eat it.

The Compassion Over Killing campaign, We Love Subway, was vocal, and Subway was listening. Making vegan options like these readily available at nearly every major interstate exit would not only make our lifestyle more available to a larger community, but would compel other restaurants to react. Times, well they are a changin’, and restaurants are finally starting to change along with them.

But how do they taste?

Now for the fun part: a review of the subs. Before we get started, let me make one thing clear. When I say something was “really tasty,” or “not so bad,” I’m making these statements with the understanding that we’re talking about fast food.

The plan was to order a 6-inch version of all three vegan subs to split between myself and my fiancée. I ordered all three exactly the same way: on Italian bread, with lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, and green peppers.

1. Malibu Greek

Malibu Greek 300x225This was by far my favorite of the three subs. Dubbed as the only organic option (I can only assume they were referring to the patty only, not the vegetables), this sub was light, refreshing, and flavorful.

After biting into the once fried, falafel-like patty, you are able to both see and clearly taste all the herbs and finely chopped veggies that make it up.

For the anti-soy folks out there, you’ll be happy to know that organic brown rice, water, organic corn, organic carrots, organic onions, organic green peppers, organic rolled oats, and organic red bell peppers all come before any mention of soy protein on the ingredients list.

2. Italian Black Bean

Italian Black Bean 300x225This one is basically a spicy black bean veggie patty cut in half and added to a sub. To be honest, I have no idea what makes it “Italian.” While not bad, this sub leaves something to be desired.

I typically don’t mind black bean patties, and I’ll often suggest them when someone else is buying veggie options for a cookout. But throwing one on some bread isn’t exactly my idea of a delicious footlong. Subway has a decent idea here; it’s just executed poorly.

As far as the ingredients go, black beans and brown rice top this ingredients list, with soy coming in third.

3. Sweet Riblet

Sweet Riblet 2 300x225In the “tastes like meat” category, this sub actually scores pretty highly. In the “fresh, whole foods” category, it finished somewhere in the back of the pack.

When the Subway Sandwich Artists made this sub for me, I was immediately turned off by the process. The worker pulled out a sealed plastic bag of “riblet” drenched in sauce and threw it in the microwave. After a minute or two of heating, he slapped it on the bread and loaded up the toppings. From the beginning, the pile of brown slob did not look appetizing.

But — I grew up in the south and have always loved the taste of BBQ sauce. And this sub had plenty of it. The texture of the “meat” was a bit chewy, but it did in fact resemble (what I remember to be) ribs. The flavor of the sauce combined with the fake rib taste actually worked.

This one won’t appeal to those who don’t like the taste or texture of meat (or things named “riblet”), but could work for those in transition to a plant-based diet, or for the meat-eater looking for something different than the typical Subway sub.

Final thoughts

As expected, it was clear that Subway is new to this whole process. When I approached the counter and asked the worker which breads were vegan, the woman making the subs looked at me like I was a total nut.

Thankfully I knew a few of them were vegan (Roasted Garlic, Sourdough, Light Wheat English Muffin, Hearty Italian and Hearty Italian White), so this wasn’t a big deal. What probably would be, to most vegetarians, is that workers’ gloves were not changed out between meat and non-meat subs, and I even think they used the same knife. Make sure you request that they change or wash them when you order if that’s a deal-breaker for you.

The woman at the register told me that Subway is planning to choose one of the three options for national distribution. I would gladly take any of these options over the current Veggie Delight, and would be very pleased just to know that Subway has another vegan item on their menu.

I can only hope that the test run here in the DC area goes smoothly, so the next time I’m stuck deep within the depths of nowhere Pennsylvania in need of a 12 inch meal, I’m not trying to piece together something from a dirty gas station’s convenience store.

Where you can find Subway’s vegan subs

Here are eight locations that are currently testing the vegan subs. If you’re in the area, get out there and give them a try, to let Subway know how much we appreciate what they’re doing.

D.C.
555 13th St NW, Washington, DC 20005 — 202-347-4616
455 Massachusetts Ave, NW (1st Floor) Washington, DC 20001 — 202-638-0348
550 First St., NW, Washington, DC 20001 — 202-661-6639

Maryland
8145 Main St, Ellicott City, MD 21043 — 410-418-4330
5520 Research Park Dr, #107, Catonsville, MD 21228 — 410-455-5222
300 Sentinel Dr, #100, Annapolis Junction, MD 20701 — 301-490-6553

Virginia
320 King St, Alexandria, VA 22314 — 703-879-4321
2361 Eisenhower Ave, Alexandria, VA 22314 — 703-879-4321

About the Author: As the newest member of the No Meat Athlete team, Doug Hay will be bringing us reviews of new food and fitness products on the market from time to time. You can also find him writing for his Washington, DC running blog, RockCreekRunner.com

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Top photo courtesy Compassion Over Killing.

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Comments

  1. Yay! The have them right near where I work! I am so excited to try out the vegan options! I am not vegan but I love the veggie delight!

  2. Awesome! I’ll head downtown to them a try this weekend! Thanks for posting your thoughts!

  3. I always ask them to change gloves. I feel like, what is the point in even wearing them in the first place if they are going to touch EVERYTHING over and over, but whatever. I hate that it makes me feel like I am the one being the jerk, but I don’t want gloves that have touched every meat 100 times over touching my food.

    • Sarah Burns says:

      I agree with you! I thought I was being negative too. I really hate fast food places. I feel like they are not even an option, even with a vegan menu. It’s still “fast food” and not organic. If you are making the life change to be better, to be vegan, it’s to be HEALTHY! I don’t want to be ungreatful, I love this blog site. It’s just my choice. Thank you.

  4. *give them a try

  5. Burger King also has a veggie burger and has for years. Not sure if it’s vegan.

  6. Any idea if they’re going to release these nation wide? Or at least start branching out a little? I live in Norfolk, VA (home of PETA), so I’d at least think they’d get them here. Is there a contact a Subway to call/email to request they get the items here?

  7. You had me at “falafel-like patty.” I’d love to give that a try! I’m going to pass on the riblet, but I love that Subway is making and effort and offering up more options!*

  8. I’d love to contact Subway myself and lobby to continue this endeavor and make it more available. I’m in D.C. myself but none of these locations are easy to get to if you aren’t in the neighborhood already. Would LOVE to try the falafel-like patty! Go Subway!!

  9. Jon Weisblatt says:

    Crapola. I live in Cape Cod. My wife still thinks Subway and Taco Bell are the Anti-christ but I will give it a go if it ever gets this far north.

  10. It’ll be about a decade before any of these make it to Scotland, but thanks for the informative and well written review!

  11. Awesome review. Thanks for acknowledging the soy issue. Unfortunately Subway has soy in ALL of its bread. As a result, I can’t eat anything there. The vegans have made great strides in getting acknowledged. I look forward to the day where soy is a dirty word to everyone and it goes away forever. Thank you again Doug!

    • Sorry to hear. Might I ask what’s so bad about soy though? I understand avoiding it if you’re allergic to it or don’t want to consume it knowing that so much of it is now genetically modified, but seriously, it’s been a major staple food in Asia for centuries and it’s nutritious. I’ll admit there are concerns to be had about it (especially in the GMO department), but I’d say it’s a bit harsh to want it be considered a “dirty word to everyone”. I’m just curious what’s got you so dead set against it.

  12. Robin Lukacs says:

    First of all, I love your website and have learned so much from it. Subway, however, is still on my boycott list.

  13. I think this is a huge victory for plant based foods. On the road, unless you are packing your own lunch there just aren’t many options. LOVE TO SUBWAY for taking this initiative. I hope they keep it coming and pull out the stops across the nation!

  14. Don’t know if it’s vegan or just vegetarian, but our Subways around here (Oregon/Washington) have the Veggie Patty option – like a garden burger. SUPER yummy and way more filling than a veggie sub. :)

  15. This is awesome! Way to go Subway! Too bad I live in Seattle, but if you’re listening Subway (and I bet you are), please introduce them out here as well – they would sell well, at least within the Seattle city limits.

  16. This post made my Friday! I hope they expand this option to all stores, especially in the St. Louis, Missouri area!

  17. THANK you for doing the leg work and giving us a sneak peak. I’m thrilled that Subway is doing this. My husband went 100% vegan a month ago (I’m all raw), and is dying for something that resembles fast food. We’re really looking forward to trying these. Can’t wait til they get them here in Denver.

  18. They actually have a veggie patty in-market here in Canada, but I’m not sure which of these it is. I haven’t tried it. I’m a pescatarian, so I usually go for the tuna!

  19. Now if only they would have a vegan cheese option, those sandwiches would be amazing!

  20. This is really good news to know. Hopefully it will be successful.

    As someone who does their best to eat GMO free, organic, MSG free and aspartame free, traveling is a real pain when it comes to eating.

    I’ve now resorted to carrying with me my GMO free, freeze dried food, items which can make a salad (red bell peppers, mushrooms, onions, broccoli, etc.). I then go to a local grocery store and get my spinach. I take with me the bowls, etc.

    Of course this only works well when you’re traveling by car.

    When some entrepreneur gets their “act together” to create a truly organic restaurant and then franchises it, will become a multimillion dollar winner. There is such an incredible niche and need for this.

    Thanks for letting me know!

    • Sarah Burns says:

      I agree with you. It’s still processed foods! I have a vegan organic restaurant in my town, Louisville, Ky. Heart & Soy amazing! Yes you can get a salad anywhere but the veggies are coated in sugar and filled with pesticides. I’ll never eat chain restaurants or fast food. Not for me.

  21. Steffanie says:

    I do think it is a step in the right direction, however I must say I actually really enjoy the Veggie Delight. When I’m in a pinch I grab myself a foot long Veggie Delight brimming with veggies and I’m all set. I don’t feel like I need a meat substitute on my bread to make a complete meal. :-)

  22. Jaya Bhumitra says:

    Thanks for trying and writing about the subs! Getting these into stores nationwide will not only make eating on-the-go easier for vegans, but it will go a long way toward mainstreaming vegan eating and making vegan foods available to health- and eco-conscious consumers across the country. If anyone wants to encourage Subway to expand these options, let them know at the campaign website: http://WeLoveSubway.com

  23. I walked into a Subway in the DC area and asked if they had the Vegan option. She didn’t even know what the word was, let alone hear about anything new coming up.

    Thanks for showing me the list.

    I am 38 yr old barely once a week runner (former college Division 1 runner) that just turned Vegan in the DC area. Love to join you all and maybe do a Marathon. If you want to do lake swimming, I live on one.

    Frankly

  24. Sarah Burns says:

    My husband and I are vegan and we just got back from amazing Seattle, WA. They have awesome vegan choices however airports do not! In Denver we found a place called “It’s a wrap it’s a bowl”. You can get steamed brown/white rice and veggies. I would never go for McDonalds, BKing or Subway. I just don’t like what they stand for and how packed with crap their food is. We plan to move to Seattle so we visit at least 2-3 times a year. We rent a house so we can shop at PCC or Whole Foods to cook our own meals. Airports are the worst but you can find something small and not horrible! Minneapolis/St. Paul airport is pretty good. They also recycle everything!

    • Sarah Burns says:

      One more thing, Subway and other fast food places offer the worst vegetables. Low quality and not organic. Thanks, but no thanks. I can fix my own wrap/sandwhich and take it with me.

  25. This may only apply to US though; in SE Asia, there are no patties at all. Some in India but none in Middle East, Malaysia, Thailand… :( Let’s hope they move it globally

  26. Interestingly enough, in the UK Subway staff always change their gloves handling vegetarian food — but as far as I know there’s no vegan option. Weird.

  27. You had me at “falafel-like pattie.” Malibu Greek gets my vote, too.
    I’m glad to see Subway making an effort to offer an item for more mindful consumers and I know it will lead to others to start thinking about their dietary choices.

  28. Belinda says:

    I call shinanagans! Why do we in CA catch all the flack for being tree-hugging, animal-loving, vegan nutcases but we don’t get to test the sandwiches! Rude!

  29. samantha thornton says:

    im so glad fast food restaurants finaly have something for vegetarians like me too eat!

  30. In Chicago most of our Subway restaurants currently have falafel sandwiches. According to the research I’ve done, the falafel is vegan. According to the sandwiches I’ve eaten, it’s quite tasty.

  31. Good article, but you’re incorrect about BK’s fries–they are partially cooked in chicken grease. I’m guessing you didn’t read Chew On This, by the same author as Fast Food Nation. So just the side salad is Vegan, I guess…

  32. Sarah Burns says:

    I’m still having a hard time understanding why everyone is so excited about fast food. The comments about Burger King, I just don’t understand why anyone would eat there. I became a member of this blog because I wanted to take part in interesting thoughts and idea from healthy intelligent people. I was pretty happy up until this point. The delight over fast foods chains offering veg/vegan options disgust me. These aren’t healthy options, they are lazy options. I plan and cook all of my own foods at home, all foods bought from organic markets. I would never even consider fast food. I’m not sure if I want to be a member of this blog any longer.

    • Stephanie says:

      I think it comes back to the “Why This Matters” section of the original post. It’s more than just “hey, a vegan option” it’s a chance to get one widely available. A chance to show people there are options.

      I don’t know that anyone here is going to run out to these few Subway shops and start eating those subs 3x a day. Maybe you are disciplined and focused enough to eat perfectly every single meal, but realistically most people aren’t, and it’s good to have some fall back options.

    • Sarah’s words:
      “I became a member of this blog because I wanted to take part in interesting thoughts and idea from healthy intelligent people. I was pretty happy up until this point. The delight over fast foods chains offering veg/vegan options disgust me. These aren’t healthy options, they are lazy options. I plan and cook all of my own foods at home, all foods bought from organic markets. I would never even consider fast food. I’m not sure if I want to be a member of this blog any longer.” – See more at: http://www.nomeatathlete.com/subway-vegan-subs/#sthash.YGu15eBl.dpuf

      Sarah
      As Stephanie and the author stated, this is more about the ‘big’ picture. Options to begin with or if you didn’t bring the wrap from home. This was not indicated as a final resting place for the future of vegetarianism. I think if you have vegetarian choices available to ALL people in the places that MOST people eat…. including the lazy, busy, ill, stupid, poor, and even ugly… there’s a much likelier chance that people might be willing to learn more, and be curious enough to say, ‘That’s vegetarian…what the heck, I’ll try it!’. Change happens in steps (unless there are lots of guns, bombs and really fanatical people involved- You aren’t one of those are you Sarah?)… Once these people start eating ‘better’ options, maybe they’ll think about how their vegi friblet was made, and where do vegetables come from anyway, what is soy, and why put egg whites in vegetarian food and what are GMOs? You will be forever isolating and alienating yourself from others ‘in process’ if you can’t embrace the road to veganism as the steps of a ladder (or if you prefer, a pyramid, stairs or even sidewalk).
      My suggestion to you would be that instead of aligning with a small elitest group of vegan assholes that the other 99% complains about, who believe that anyone not ONLY eating local, organic, non-GMO, minimally processed, raw food every single meal is beneath them, try to be happy that there are starting points happening on the road to veganland. If you didn’t mean to come across so elitist and intolerant, just know that you did. If you were a bit more understanding and empathetic to other’s on the road to perfection, you might even be able to sway people in your direction, cuz it sounds like you are pretty knowledgeable. Why don’t you choose to be generous and caring and open to the process many of us go though to get to the genesis that you have achieved? Be a guide and teacher, not an alienator. I guarantee you will be more fulfilled and won’t come across a such a snob.

    • Lauren Hughes says:

      Sarah, get something to eat. You sound hungry.

  33. It’s vegetarian not vegan, there is egg in most breads

  34. Heather says:

    Thanks for addressing the multiple issues of meat eaters trying to eat a touch healthier while still fast food (at Subway I’ve tended to go for the BLT with lots of veggies piled on), vegetarians/vegans seeking a fast food just off the highway option, and how much soy is included. For someone considering opting out of meat, dairy, and soy, even in this first world country, it’s tough to do! Then to even consider taste, too! : P

    I hate to think Subway would only choose one option, though. Based on your review, I’d likely choose the less processed, more organic, less soy (first) option. Too bad I just moved away from the DC area, though, and can’t try it myself, though I suspect the “riblet” was direct from a Morningstar Farms box (isn’t that Con Agra or Kraft now?).

    I’m venturing into marathon training now and looking for ways to help myself feel full, get good vitamins/minerals/fiber, yet not eat meat or soy as often. Thanks again!

  35. I’m a newbie vegetarian, and Subway has helped me immensely in times of extreme hunger/strapped for time/etc. I’m excited to learn that they’re rolling these out…I live in the Meat Capital of America (Texas) so I doubt we’ll get them any time soon down here, but I’ll go ahead and beg Subway to send us at least the Riblet one (hey, it has BBQ sauce on it lol)!!

  36. Subway is anything BUT FRESH! Someone please tell me what is “fresh” about Subway. All of the meat is prepackaged. I don’t even know what the eggs are suppose to be. Go to Subway during the afternoon and look at the “eggs.” They look like a rubbery substance. The “eggs” sit in their container all day!
    Much of the produce is prepackaged as well. I’m a vegan and will never go to Subway again for a vegetarian sub. Disgusting!

  37. There is always a ton of oil in those manufactured “veggie” patties. These strike me as still in the category of “vegan” junk food.

  38. ONLY in those areas? Well that’s not fucking fair…
    it should be everywhere since they are in the US now.
    I demand they expand over to the west coast!…there is no reason for them not to have it everywhere. Oh and to make matters even more worse is subways website doesn’t seem to have these on there like they don’t even exist….

  39. Michelle W says:

    You didn’t list the ingredients in the riblet sub. I really appreciate your info about the subs. As I am soy-sensitive and can’t eat a lot of it. Thanks! :)

  40. That’s all great and dandy but you’re still eating pesticides and GMO if its not organic/pesticide-free/nonGMO.

  41. So…you never list the ingredients in the riblet sandwich! (I’m assuming there is soy in that one, as well?). As long as there isn’t too much soy in either of those, I can eat it, ok. But if it’s too much (like tofu or a lot of TVP), then it messes with my hormones and I can’t eat it. :( Guess for now, will still have to stick with that boring veggie delight and bring my own foods, sigh.

  42. That’s so awesome!! I hope these come near me. I’m jealous.

  43. Hello,
    is the bread really vegan? Their common bread isn’t mostly.
    Only their italian bread is vegan (contains no honey). All the others have honey.

    Greetings.

  44. What do you guys think of eating plants that come from factory farms that till up the soil and kill rodents and such? I feel that growing your own food or choosing a local, small farm that tills on a small scale would be the most cruelty-free way to go if one wanted to do their best to avoid harming our ecosystem??

  45. Not Vegan says:

    What about the bread? There is no way subway is making vegan bread… Lol

  46. What do you do about the cross contamination I guess if you’re hungry enough its the best option between Subway and McDonalds but if you have to worry about it to me its not very vegetarian friendly lol i’ll stick with the prepackaged apples :P

  47. I thought I read somewhere (such as Subway’s website) that all of their breads contain casein??

  48. Good article. As it is now 2014 and have never heard of any of these vegan options at any of our Subway’s out here in Los Angeles, I guess the vegan campaign did not catch on. However, I learned a lot from this read. Thank you.

  49. Hey there says:

    Just wanted to say that there is a decent, upcoming fast-food chain that also caters to vegans. It is called Pita Pit. Has veggies, hummus, avocado, falafel, and black bean patties. The best part is that instead of normal sandwhich bread, you get it in a flat bread. Just adding my two cents since this article failed to mention that there are smaller chains out there that cater to veggie/vegans.

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  1. […] salads and nuts (you can just about get them at any gas station!).  When No Meat Athlete posted a review of three vegan subs Subway is testing out in eight stores in the D.C. area, I was so excited!  For Subway to even test […]

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