Vegan meat substitutes are made to look, cook, and taste just like meat but they are made using plant-based ingredients like vegetables, beans, and even fruit. Many of these substitutes provide a healthier option than their animal-derived alternatives, without contributing to the many problems caused by animal agriculture, like the increased risk of zoonotic disease outbreaks, antibiotic-resistance, climate breakdown, and — of course — the appalling and unnecessary suffering of animals.
WHAT ARE VEGAN MEAT SUBSTITUTES MADE OF?
Vegan meat substitutes are made from a wide range of plant-based ingredients. This means that there is always an option that can provide a delicious alternative to animal-derived items, whatever it is you’re looking for.
- Pea Protein. Meat-alternative products made using pea protein are a good option for those who have allergies that prevent them from eating other types of plant-based protein, such as gluten or soya. Pea protein is derived from yellow split peas which require few resources in the form of water and fertilisers to grow. This is just one reason why pea protein is more environmentally friendly than animal-derived products and even some other plant meat alternatives.
- Tempeh. Made out of fermented soya beans, tempeh is a highly versatile vegan meat substitute that can be used in stir-frys, in bowls, salads, sandwiches, and virtually anywhere else that meat is used. It can be roasted, sauteed, fried, or baked. When preparing tempeh, many people steam it as this can reduce the bitterness that some people taste in tempeh.
- Seitan. Seitan is made out of wheat gluten. First reports of “wheat meat” date back to China about 1,500 years ago. The name we know today — “seitan” — was coined by Japanese philosopher George Oshawa in the 1960s and means roughly “made of protein”. The product certainly is high protein, as well as being highly versatile. It can be used as a replacement for everything from bacon to sausage to a vegan roast joint.
- Jackfruit. The largest cultivated fruit grown on a tree in the world, jackfruit has grown in popularity in recent years. Now jackfruit tacos or barbecued pulled jackfruit sandwiches grace the menus of many restaurants, vegan and omnivorous alike. The fruit is high in vitamins A, B, and C, as well as potassium, calcium, iron, and protein.
- Tofu. Perhaps one of the most well-known vegan meat substitutes, tofu, originated in China as early as 220 BC. Tofu is made out of soya, can be used in a wide array of recipes and dishes, and is a staple in the diets of millions around the world. It produces one third of the emissions of meat from chickens, and 66 times fewer emissions than beef making it a good choice environmentally, too.
- Lentils. Lentils provide a popular substitute for minced meats in dishes such as tacos, chilli, and shepherd’s pie. They come in a rainbow of colours including red, yellow, green, and black. They are a great source of protein and fibre, completely natural, and very affordable too.
- Black Beans. Most of us have enjoyed a delicious black bean burger which is what black beans are best known for as a meat substitute. However, they are also used as a delicious protein source in stews, tacos, and other meatless meals.
- Chickpeas. Chickpeas play a central role as a vegan protein in dishes such as falafel and hummus. They can also be made into a vegan protein powder for adding to smoothies or sprinkling on top of other dishes.
BEST VEGAN MEAT SUBSTITUTES
1. PEA PROTEIN
Pea protein has risen in popularity as a vegan meat substitute. This is because it is highly versatile and can be used to create products and dishes that visibly resemble meat-based burgers and hot dogs while also tasting very similar to meat. Below are just a few of the many products that are made using pea protein as a key ingredient.
- Beyond Meat Plant-Based Burgers
- Linda McCartney Lincolnshire Sausages
- Green Cuisine Meat-Free Burgers
A number of recipes call for tempeh or tempeh bacon. Tempeh can also be swapped into recipes that you would normally use bacon or chunks of meat for — such as stews or BLTs. Below are a couple of tempeh products to keep an eye out for.
3. SEITAN (OR WHEAT PROTEIN)
Seitan plays a central role in a number of different vegan meat alternatives thanks to its versatility. It can be found in everything from vegan sausages to vegan jerky. The few items here are just some of the ways you might come across seitan.
- VFC’s Vegan Fried Chick*n – Tenders, Fillets, Popcorn Chick*n and Stompers
- Green Cuisine Southern Fried Grills
- Wicked Kitchen’s Meat-Free Peppered “Beast” Slices
Jackfruit has a hearty, meaty texture and taste that trades places perfectly with pulled pork on sandwiches or in tacos. However, the fruit’s potential doesn’t end there. It can also be found as a starring ingredient in many substitutes, including those below.
- Baxter’s Jackfruit, Three Bean & Chipotle Chilli Soup
- Bonsan Organic Smoky Barbecue Jackfruit
- Wicked Kitchen Jackfruit Dhal & Rice
Used in a wide array of East Asian dishes and eaten as a staple protein by millions of people, tofu has increased in popularity around the world, because of the number of meals it can be used in and its ability to absorb the flavours in which it’s prepared. Look out for these …
Lentils often play an important part in giving texture and flavour to soups and stews, but can also be used to make delicious vegan burgers and taco meat. There are many different varieties of lentils; the fun part is finding your favourite uses for each.
- Red split lentils, dried, widely available
- Napolina Brown Lentils
- Merchant Gourmet Puy Lentils
7. BLACK BEANS
Black beans are a good vegan protein source. They can be added to chilli, used in tacos, salads and salsas, or made into burgers. When shopping for black beans, try grabbing one of these brands.
Chickpeas are a staple protein for many vegans. They are highly versatile and can be added to curries, made into hummus, or used to create delicious falafel. There are lots of brands out there but we’ve listed three to get you started.
9. PLANT-BASED SAUSAGES
Whether you’re in the market for a tasty sausage to eat with breakfast, or you want a hearty option to add to pasta or your dinner plate, there’s a vegan sausage available that fits the bill. Here are a few of our must-tries.
10. PLANT-BASED CHICKEN
Vegan chicken has taken supermarket shelves by storm with new options popping up seemingly every other week. As you eat your way through all the different kinds, make sure to give the products below a try.
11. VEGAN CHORIZO
If you’re in the mood for the spicy savouriness of chorizo but don’t want to cause animal suffering, reach for one of the products below.
- Plant Pioneers Chorizo Shroomdogs
- Wheaty Vegan Chorizo Snack Bar
- Squeaky Bean Spanish Chorizo Style Slices
12. VEGETARIAN DELI SLICES
If you’re looking for a quick replacement for sliced meat the brands below have you covered with their delicious alternative proteins.
ARE VEGAN MEAT SUBSTITUTES HEALTHY?
A diet based around animal products such as meat, dairy, and eggs, is detrimental to our wellbeing, not least because all processed meat causes cancer. Conversely, a plant-based diet is associated with reduced risk of many chronic diseases, and processed vegan meats have no associations with cancer. When we choose vegan proteins such as tofu, beans, tempeh, and lentils, we are choosing a whole food plant-based diet, which does us the world of good.
Another concerning aspect of the way that animal products are made is the increased risk of pandemics caused by industrial farming. Scientists have been ringing this alarm bell for years. On industrial farms, also known as factory farms, tens of thousands of animals are packed together in a small amount of space and they often spend their lives standing in their own urine and faeces. To top it all off, they often have weakened immune systems due to intensive breeding. These circumstances provide the ideal environment for a zoonotic disease, one which has the ability to spread between humans and animals, to take hold and spread like wildfire before eventually making the jump to humans. To try to keep as many animals alive as possible in these appalling conditions, antibiotics are liberally used, and this contributes to the current crisis in antibiotic-resistance.
So, choosing plant-based meats has important global impacts for public health, as well as our own personal health, and the health of the planet and other animals.
Vegan meat alternatives come in a variety of different forms and flavours, and have many different ingredients. Some have been processed to resemble their animal-derived counterparts in taste and texture while others are whole foods and can be used to create delicious unique dishes. Regardless of your preference, choosing any vegan meat alternative is better than eating animals — not just because of the ethical problems with eating animals, but also because of the improved health outcomes connected to omitting animal products from our diets.